A Simple DIY Solar Tracker

solar panel

The sun is a great source of energy, however, efficiently collecting this energy can be hard to do.  One thing that can improve the results of solar use is to actually track the sun’s movement. [fanman1981] hooked up his own homebrew solar tracker using some pretty clever techniques.

For this hack he used two Harbor freight 45 Watt solar kits, some struts on the bottom, and a Dish Network satellite dish bracket hooked up to an “old school” antenna motor.  Although one might think this device tracks the sun using some sort of sensor, it’s actually just a matter of hooking up the device to rotate at timed interval with a remote control.  This interval is figured out with the benefit of some charts on livingonsolar.com.

To see it in use, check out the video after the break.  He gives a good explanation about how everything was put together, but if you just want to see it move, fast forward to around 5:26, really quite impressive.

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eReader battery never goes flat (in the sun)


Instructables user [flapke] has a Kobo eReader and wanted to add some solar cells to it in order to charge the battery for free. The modification is similar to others we have seen recently, though his work was done so well that it almost looks stock.

He started out by sourcing a pair of solar panels from DealExtreme that purported to supply 5.5v @ 80mA. Like most of us are inclined to do, he tested them before use and found that they actually put out around 50mA instead. While the performance was a bit off, they still fit his needs pretty well, as the charge current needed to be at or less than 100mA to avoid damaging the battery.

He opened the Kobo’s case, and carefully removed a section of the back panel to make room for the solar panels. Once they were soldered together in parallel, he wired them to the eReader’s battery through a Schottky diode to prevent the battery from draining.

While we think his solar modification is a great way to ensure that he never runs out of juice while reading by the pool, we would certainly add a bit of extra charge circuitry to ours to prevent damage to the battery. What do you think?

Auxiliary battery pack for field operations


Ham operator [Ken - wa4mnt] wrote us to share a small project that he uses nearly every time he goes out in the field. His portable sealed lead acid battery pack (PDF) always ensures that he has a 12v power source at his fingertips, both for fun as well as in emergency situations.

The battery pack is pretty simple, and includes a 12v, 17ah battery strapped into a light aluminum chassis which he fabricated. The battery is secured with zip ties, so it can easily be swapped out or replaced without much fuss. The frame also sports a tiltable 4w, 17.5v solar panel that keeps the battery topped off and ready to go at all times. He stuck a voltmeter to the top of the battery to keep an eye on things, and he employs a 10A fuse to make sure he doesn’t fry any sensitive radio components should something go wrong.

The battery pack is pretty compact when you think about it, and we imagine it would be great to have on hand for a wide array of outdoor activities. Even if you’re not into Ham field operations, it’s hard to argue with its usefulness during power outages.

[Ken] doesn’t appear to have any published plans for the chassis or the electronic portion of the pack, but we’re pretty sure he would share if asked.

Solar-powered GameBoy Color never runs out of juice


Instructables user [Andrew] was given a free, but damaged GameBoy color by a friend. The friend’s dog had done quite a number on the outside of the handheld, but it was definitely usable.  After replacing some of the outer shell, [Andrew] decided that he would try tweaking the GameBoy to utilize a solar cell in order to keep the batteries topped off.

He bought a solar garden light for $5 and disassembled it, being careful not to damage the heavily-glued solar panel in the process. The GameBoy was pulled apart next, and the solar panel was soldered to the handheld’s battery leads. Once the wires were properly routed through the case, he reassembled the handheld and picked up a pair of rechargeable AA batteries to test things out.

[Andrew] tells us that the solar panel works nicely, and that simply setting it out face-down keeps his batteries charged and ready to go.

Stick around for a quick video demo of his solar-powered GameBoy.

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Solar-powered MP3 playing speaker


[Valentin] bought a small battery-powered cube speaker with a built-in amp some time ago, but didn’t have much patience for replacing or recharging the batteries. It sat on the shelf for awhile until he decided to revive an old MP3 player he had sitting around.

He gutted a pair of solar garden lamps, retaining the solar panels, the built-in charging circuits, as well as the included rechargeable batteries. The MP3 player was disassembled, and its components were built into the speaker enclosure. The player’s buttons were relocated to the outer shell of the speaker box with a few pieces of wire, allowing him to easily control his music without having to build in a method for opening the case. Both the speaker and the MP3 player are powered by the batteries salvaged from the solar lamps, which is why he opted to mount both of the solar panels on the the side of the speaker enclosure rather than just one.

We like it even though the speaker looks a bit rough at the moment, especially where the MP3 player’s buttons were transplanted. After a few minutes of touch-up work however, it’ll look great.

If you’re interested in some more solar hacks, check out this solar-powered junkbot, these solar toys for kids, and this solar-powered WiFi repeater we featured in the past.

555 timer-based charge controller


Several years ago [Michael Davis] built a charge controller for his wind turbine and published his construction plans online. This build became quite popular, especially among people that live in remote regions. He states that he is flooded with email each day with questions about his charge controller from people trying to troubleshoot its construction or from people who are unable to source the proper parts.

In order to make things easier for people, he decided to revisit his controller design to see what could be improved, and more importantly, what could be removed. The revision was shelved for awhile, but while in the process of working on another project, he realized that most of his original circuit could be easily replaced with a 555 timer. Since the 555 chip is so ubiquitous, he figured it was a fantastic way to simplify his charger, even if he wasn’t using the chip in the manner for which it was originally designed.

He continued revising his charger, sourcing very basic components and simplifying the circuitry enough that even he was able to build it correctly the first time around. Needless to say, this charging circuit will be his entry in the 555 Design Contest.

Be sure to keep reading for a quick video of his charger in action.

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Disco Death Ray

Wielding the power to melt glass or instantly ignite most day to day materials can be intoxicating pretty fun. With a little math, a lot of patience, and 5,800  1cm pieces of mirror, this build requires welding glasses just to look at the 1-2cm focal point. With an idea rumored to date back to Archimedes, this more portable parabolic project is perfect for your home burning needs. Unfortunately, this setup seems to have burnt itself to death at some point, though that makes room for version two, which will reportedly bump the mirror count to 32,000 or so.

There are plenty of other ways to make a death ray out there as well, including using lasers or lenses. Think you have a better tool of destruction? Be sure to tell us about it.