Solar vs Battery-powered GPS Trackers

Digital Matter Support

All electronic devices (GPS trackers included) require some form of power source to operate.

Our range of externally powered vehicle trackers need a constant power source throughout their lifetime and can be wired to power sources such as a car battery.

Other assets, such as trailers, containers, and bins do not have readily available power sources. For these types of applications, an alternative power source is required. Generally, in the tracking industry, we see two power sources utilized – Solar and Battery-power.

Solar Powered Tracking

The assumption with a solar-powered tracker is that the sun will be able to provide limitless energy for many years. The truth is a bit more complicated than this.

Clearly, for at least half of any given day, there will be no sunlight. To provide a constant power source, including at night-time, the solar panel must be used in conjunction with a rechargeable battery – usually Lithium Polymer (LiPo). The panel will provide a voltage when sunlight is on it to recharge the battery, which then in turn powers the unit.

There are a few limitations to this:

  • The efficiency of solar panels degrades over time.
  • The panel must be kept clean, and the device must be placed in direct sunlight for maximum efficiency.
  • Rechargeable LiPo batteries have a limited shelf life and a limited number of charge cycles. Typically after 3-4 years, they will need replacement.

These limitations present some significant challenges in solar-powered tracking applications.

Devices must be placed on top of assets, with a clear view of the sky to receive adequate sunlight. This is not always possible – often if the device is being used to prevent theft, it needs to be hidden, so thieves don’t see the tracker and try to remove it. This placement also means it is more likely to become covered in dirt and other organic matter, and not produce enough power.

Why do we know all of this?

We have experience with solar-powered trackers thanks to our G52S device, which is our solar-powered tracker, well suited for Agtech and trailer tracking. While this was an innovative product for its time, advances in battery technology have led to this product being superseded by our battery-powered range.

Battery-powered Tracking

In recent years, there have been significant improvements in the quality, capacity, and performance of primary cell batteries.

Combining these batteries with clever firmware features and strong hardware design has enabled us to produce world-leading battery-powered devices like our Oyster2 and Remora2.

The Oyster2 and Remora2 can be fitted with Lithium Thionyl Chloride batteries, which:

  • Contain stacks of energy – you can find 18Ah per D cell battery for the Remora2.
  • Have extreme temperature tolerance, -40 to +80C is typical.

Our battery-powered devices also don’t use proprietary, impossible to remove batteries. Instead, we opt for user-replaceable AAA, A, C, or D cell batteries.

Some typical battery lifetimes for our devices:

Remora2

  • 5 years at 1 ping per hour
  • ​10 years at 1 ping per day

Oyster2

  • Up to 3 years movement-based tracking
  • 7 years at 1 ping per day

Yabby GPS

  • Up to 3 years at 1 ping per day

Thanks to such advances in battery technology the Remora2 now dominates over solar-powered devices like the G52S. Even with the sun’s energy, the internal LiPo batteries in the G52S will need to be replaced far more frequently than the D cells in the Remora2.

Other Benefits of Using Primary Cells Rather Than Solar Power Include:

  • Limited restriction on device placement. Devices don’t need to be in sunlight and can be concealed within the equipment, or on the underside of assets/trailers. High-performance GPS receivers and Low-Noise-Amplifiers (LNAs) ensure signal will still be received.
  • Non-proprietary batteries can be easily sourced and replaced by the user.
  • The device is easier to build, and therefore has a lower cost!
  • Consistent device performance irrespective of the time of day, where it is parked, conditions, etc.

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