Off-grid living isn’t for everyone, but it has gotten easier in recent years. Cheap solar panels and wind turbines let you generate your own power, and there are plenty of strategies to deal with fuel, water and sanitation. But the one thing many folks find hard to do without – high-speed internet access – has few options for the really remote homestead. [tlankford01] wants to fix that and is working on an open-source mesh network to provide high-speed internet access to off-grid communities.
But first he had to deal with a major problem. With high-speed access provided by a Clearwire wireless network, streaming content to his two flat-screen TVs wasn’t a problem. At least until Sprint bought Clearwire and shut down the service in early November. Another ISP covered his area, but his house lies in a depression out of line of sight of their tower. So he rigged up a bridge between the WiMAX network and his lab. The bridge sits on a hill in sight of the ISP’s tower 3.5 miles away. Solar panels, a charge controller and deep-cycle batteries power everything, and a wireless link down the hill rounds out the build.
This is obviously a temporary solution, and probably wouldn’t last long in winter weather. But it’s working for now, and more importantly it’s acting as proof of concept for a larger mesh system [tlankford01] has in mind. There are plenty of details on what that would look like on his project page (linked above), and it’s worth a look too if you’re interested in off-grid connectivity.
It’s practically May, and that means the sweltering heat of summer is nearly upon us. Soon you’ll be sitting outside somewhere, perhaps by a lake, or fishing from a canoe, or atop a blanket spread out on the grass at a music festival, all the while wishing you had built yourself a solar-powered personal air conditioner.
[Nords] created his from a large insulated beverage vessel. The imbibing spout offers a pre-made path to the depths of said vessel and the heart of this build, the ice water refrigerant. [Nords] fashioned a coil out of copper tubing to use as a heat exchanger and strapped it to the fan that performed best in a noise-benefit analysis.
A small USB-powered submersible pump moves the ice water up through the copper tubing. Both the pump and the fan run off of a 5V solar panel and are connected with a USB Y cable, eliminating the need for soldering. Even if you spend the summer inside, you could still find yourself uncomfortably warm. Provided you have access to ice, you could make this really cool desktop air conditioner.
[via Embedded Lab]
The simplest and easiest way to charge a battery with a solar panel is to connect the panel directly to the battery. Assuming the panel has a diode to prevent energy from flowing through it from the battery when there’s no sunlight. This is fairly common but not very efficient. [Debasish Dutta] has built a charge controller that addresses the inefficiencies of such a system though, and was able to implement maximum power point tracking using an Arduino.
Maximum power point tracking (MPPT) is a method that uses PWM and a special DC-DC converter to match the impedance of the solar panel to the battery. This means that more energy can be harvested from the panel than would otherwise be available. The circuit is placed in between the panel and the battery and regulates the output voltage of the panel so it matches the voltage on the battery more closely. [Debasish] reports that an efficiency gain of 30-40% can be made with this particular design.
This device has a few bells and whistles as well, including the ability to log data over WiFi, an LCD display to report the status of the panel, battery, and controller, and can charge USB devices. This would be a great addition to any solar installation, especially if you’ve built one into your truck.
This is [Debasish]’s second entry to The Hackaday Prize. We covered his first one a few days ago. That means only one thing: start a project and start documenting it on hackaday.io
For those who don’t know, Burning Man is a week-long festival in the middle of the Black Rock Desert in Nevada. The event attracts a wide range of creative people from all over the world.
This year, [Jake] is going to bring his homemade evaporative ‘swamp cooler’ to help battle the heat. His design uses a medium-sized shipping container with two large holes cut out of it and two 200mm PC cooling fans embedded into the plastic. The fans blow air from the outside into the bin. Humidifier filters sourced from a local dump are inserted into the middle of the container. The filters acts as an absorbent material to hold melt-water being pumped in from another cooler chest above.
A 30 watt solar panel provides enough power to keep the swamp cooler going while giving enough juice to energize decorative LED interior lights along with some backup batteries for phones and cameras. [Jake]’s system contains a re-purposed A/C computer load center for the solar system. He plans to take temperature and humidity readings at the Burn, bringing back the data from the desert to share with the world.
[Jake] does warn about mold with this system though, but one of the advantages with the filters he chose is that they are pretreated with biocidal compounds. This should help to reduce the chance of mold growth. High humidity conditions are also a disadvantage with this type of cooler, but this is a non-issue in the extremely dry desert of The Playa.
If you plan to go to Burning Man, tell about your energy/cooling preparations. Will you be bringing a system similar to this? If so, let us know.
Steampunker extraordinaire [Jake von Slatt] loves the idea of solar-powered garden lights soaking up the sun’s rays during the day and powering a LED in the evening. Commercially available solar lanterns, as [Jake], you, me, and everyone else on the planet have discovered, are universally terrible and either don’t have solar panels large enough to charge a battery, or only last a year or so. [Jake]’s solution was to make his own solar lanterns and in the process he came up with a great way of cutting his own solar panels.
[Jake] turned to ebay to source 100 3″ x 6″ solar panels for about $30. These are broken panels, factory rejects, but still are able to produce the 0.5 Volts they should. Since these are rather large panels for a solar lantern, [Jake] needed a way to cut these panels into manageable sizes.
To cut the panels, [Jake] made a box to fit a Dremel with a right angle attachment and a port for a vacuum cleaner. There’s a sled for the panels with markings at 40, 80, 75, and 150 mm so the panels can be quickly cut to size with a diamond cutting wheel.
After the boards are cut, [Jake] checks them out with a multimeter to be sure they’re producing the half volt they should. After that, it’s a simple matter of soldering them together and adding them to his solar lanterns.
This system of hybridizing your home’s electric appliances is an interesting take on solar energy. It focuses on seamlessly switching appliances from the grid to stored solar energy as frequently as possible. There’s a promo video after the break that explains the setup, but here’s the gist of it.
Follow along on the pictograph above. We start on the left with solar panel. This feeds to a charger that tops off a 12V battery. When that battery is full, the charger feeds to the inverter which converts the 12V DC to 110V AC power. This is fed to a pass-through which is in between the appliance (in this a case a lamp) and the wall outlet. The pass-through will switch between mains power coming from the outlet, and the 110 coming from the inverter. The homeowner won’t know, or care, which power source is being used. But sunny months should result in lower energy bills. The real question is how long it takes to cover the cost of the system in saved electricity.
Continue reading “Driving your home appliances with hybrid power”
This solar panel tracks the sun using solar cells. It’s a pretty interesting technique, and can be done on the cheap.
The rectangular panels are doing the actual energy harvesting. The circular modules seen below are solar cells from some landscaping lights. They’re being used as sensors to help judge if the device is aimed directly at the sun. We’ve already seen this type of thing done with a quartet of light dependent resistors. In this case, if the negative leads for both landscaping lights are connected, a voltage may be read from the positive lead of each panel. If you measure that voltage, and use a rotating stand to adjust the position until the readings balance, you can be assured that your array is getting the optimal amount of sunlight.
[Gtoal] had been trying to drive motors directly from the output lines of these panels without success. We’re sure there’s a simple analog comparator circuit which would facilitate this. Grabbing a small microcontroller is another option (and some chips have an analog comparator built in).