Solar Panel System Monitoring Device Using Arduino

[Carl] recently upgraded his home with a solar panel system. This system compliments the electricity he gets from the grid by filling up a battery bank using free (as in beer) energy from the sun. The system came with a basic meter which really only shows the total amount of electricity the panels produce. [Carl] wanted to get more data out of his system. He managed to build his own monitor using an Arduino.

The trick of this build has to do with how the system works. The panel includes an LED light that blinks 1000 times for each kWh of electricity. [Carl] realized that if he could monitor the rate at which the LED is flashing, he could determine approximately how much energy is being generated at any given moment. We’ve seen similar projects in the past.

Like most people new to a technology, [Carl] built his project up by cobbling together other examples he found online. He started off by using a sketch that was originally designed to calculate the speed of a vehicle by measuring the time it took for the vehicle to pass between two points. [Carl] took this code and modified it to use a single photo resistor to detect the LED. He also built a sort of VU meter using several LEDs. The meter would increase and decrease proportionally to the reading on the electrical meter.

[Carl] continued improving on his system over time. He added an LCD panel so he could not only see the exact current measurement, but also the top measurement from the day. He put all of the electronics in a plastic tub and used a ribbon cable to move the LCD panel to a more convenient location. He also had his friend [Andy] clean up the Arduino code to make it easier for others to use as desired.

Hippie-Redneck Solar-Heated Swimming Pool Slash Hot Tub

In need of a jacuzzi to complete your backyard but just don’t have the cash? Need a swimming pool for the little ones but tired of the cheap plastic ones popping and leaking all over the place? Look no further than [inexplorata]’s self-explanatory “Hippie-Redneck Solar-Heated Kiddo Swimmin’ Pool And Hot Tub“.

The pool uses a six-foot-diameter metal stock tank, provided by a neighbor. After some liberal use of JB Weld, the tank functions as a makeshift pool on the cheap, but the magic doesn’t end there. [inexplorata] found a solar thermal water heater that someone was getting rid of and snagged it to heat up the water, which is almost a necessity for most parts of the Northern Hemisphere right now.

A sump pump in a bucket handles water circulation, and [inexplorata] points out that the single water heater is more than enough to keep the water nice and warm (“hot enough to poach a rhino” is the scientific term used on the project page) so if you’ve got the means, this might be a welcome addition to the backyard! The build was posted on Reddit, the users of which had some helpful suggestions for improving the pool if you want to tackle this yourself. If you don’t have a solar thermal water heater, you could always make one of those too.

Solar Tetroon Spooks Albuquerque

An interesting take on Hackerspace outreach is spooking the local community into calling the FAA and even the Air Force. It wasn’t exactly the plan at Quelab, but after an experimental solar tetroon got away from [Gonner Menning], one of the space’s members, that’s exactly what happened.

This is the first we remember hearing of solar tetroons. A tetroon is actually a fairly common weather balloon design using four triangle-shaped pieces. The solar part is pretty neat, it’s a balloon that uses the sun to heat air inside of a balloon. Instead of filling the bladder with a lighter-than-air gas it is filled with regular air and the sun’s rays heat it to become lighter than the surrounding ambient air.

For this particular flight the balloon was never supposed to be off the tether. Previous iterations had turned out to be rather poor fliers. Of course it figures that when [Gonner] finally tuned the design with an optimal weight to lift ratio it slipped its leash and got away. The GPS package tracked it for quite a while but ended up dying and the craft was nary to be found.

We weren’t going to embed the local news coverage video, but at the end the talking heads end up rolling around the word “Hackerspace” in their mouths like it’s foreign food. Good for a giggle after the break.

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An Interview with Tesla Battery Hacker [wk057]

We covered [wk057] and his Tesla Model S battery teardown back in September. Since then we had some time to catch up with him, and ask a few questions.

You’ve mentioned that you have a (non hacked) Tesla Model S. What do you think of the car?

It’s the best car I’ve ever driven or owned, period. Not to get too into it, but, I love it. I’ve put almost 20,000 miles on it already in under a year and I have no real complaints. Software feature requests… but no complaints. After almost a year, multiple 1700-miles-in-a-weekend trips, and an overall great experience… I can never go back to a gas vehicle after this. It would be like going back to horses and buggies.

A salvage Tesla Lithium battery had to be expensive compared to a Lead Acid setup. What made you go with the Tesla?

Actually, if you consider that the Model S battery is already pre-setup as a high-capacity pack, contains the wiring to do so, and the modules are much more energy and power dense than any lead acid battery bank, it’s actually almost cheaper than a comparable lead acid bank and all the trimmings.

I haven’t officially weighed them, but the modules from the Model S battery are roughly 80 lbs. 80 lbs for a 5.3 kWh battery is around 15 lbs per kWh, which is impressive. For comparison, a decent lead acid battery will have a little over 1 kWh (of low-rate discharge capacity) and weigh almost the same.

Also, the Tesla pack is much more powerful than a lead acid bank of the same capacity.
Generally a lead acid battery bank would have a capacity that would only be realized with slow discharges, so, 1/20C. Much over that and you sacrifice capacity for power. 1/20C for an 85kWh pack is only 4.25kW, barely enough for a central air unit and some lights without losing capacity.

Now the Tesla pack can be discharged (based on how it does so in the vehicle) at up to 3.75C for short periods, and at 1/2C continuously without really affecting the overall capacity of the pack. That means I can run 10x more power than lead acid without a loss in overall charge capacity. Leads to a much more flexible battery solution since the loads will, in reality, always be so low that this will not even come into play with the Tesla pack, but would almost always be a factor with lead acid.

Charging is also somewhat better with the Tesla battery. Charge a lead acid battery at a 1/2C and it will boil. Charge the Tesla pack at 1/2C (42kW) and it might warm up a few degrees. Oh, and the charging losses at high rates are much less than lead acid also.
Overall, without continuing to yack about the technical aspects, it’s just a much better battery, takes up less space, weighs less, and has more power available.

There are likely decent arguments for other solutions, but the rest aside, this one won out because it was definitely more interesting.

Click past the break to read the rest of our interview with [wk057]!

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Solar Powered Circuit Waters Your Plants


If you want your plants to stay healthy, you need to make sure they stay watered. [Dimbit] decided to build his own solar powered circuit to help automatically keep his plants healthy. Like many things, there is more than one way to skin this cat. [Dimbit] had seen other similar projects before, but he wanted to make his smarter than the average watering project. He also wanted it to use very little energy.

[Dimbit] first tackled the power supply. He suspected he wouldn’t need much more than 5V for his project. He was able to build his own solar power supply by using four off-the-shelf solar garden lamps. These lamps each have their own low quality solar panel and AAA NiMH cell. [Dimbit] designed and 3D printed his own plastic stand to hold all of the solar cells in place. All of the cells and batteries are connected in series to increase the voltage.

Next [Dimbit] needed an electronically controllable water valve. He looked around but was unable to find anything readily available that would work with very little energy. He tried all different combinations of custom parts and off-the-shelf parts but just couldn’t make something with a perfect seal. The solution came from an unlikely source.

One day, when [Dimbit] ran out of laundry detergent, he noticed that the detergent bottle cap had a perfect hole that should be sealable with a steel ball bearing. He then designed his own electromagnet using a bolt, some magnet wire, and a custom 3D printed housing. This all fit together with the detergent cap to make a functional low power water valve.

The actual circuit runs on a Microchip PIC microcontroller. The system is designed to sleep for approximately nine minutes at a time. After the sleep cycle, it wakes up and tests a probe that sits in the soil. If the resistance is low enough, the PIC knows that the plants need water. It then opens the custom valve to release about two teaspoons of water from a gravity-fed system. After a few cycles, even very dry soil can reach the correct moisture level. Be sure to watch the video of the functioning system below. Continue reading “Solar Powered Circuit Waters Your Plants”

Game Tin: Handheld Games with no Batteries

Anyone who grew up with a Game Boy knows how well they sucked through AA batteries. [Nick]’s Game Tin console solves this problem by running of an ultracapacitor charged by solar power.

The console is based on a EFM32 microcontroller: an ARM device designed for low power applications. The 128×128 pixel monochrome memory display provides low-fi graphics while maintaining low power consumption.

There’s two solar cells and a BQ25570 energy harvesting IC to charge the ultracap. This chip takes care of maximum power point tracking to get the most out of the solar cells. If it’s dark out, the device can be charged in about 30 seconds by connecting USB power.

The 10 F Maxwell ultracapacitor can run a game on the device for 1.5 hours without sunlight, and the device runs indefinitely in the sun. Thanks to the memory display, applications that have lower refresh rates will have much lower power consumption.

The Game Tin is open source, and is being developed using KiCad. You can grab all the EDA files from Bitbucket. [Nick] is also gauging interest in the Game Tin, and hopes to release it as a kit.

THP Semifinalist: Solar Energy System

Building a solar power installation isn’t as simple as buying a few panels, wiring them up to a battery, and putting an inverter in the mix. To get the most out of your pricey panels, you’ll want to look at something called Maximum Power Point tracking. Solar panels have an IV curve, and this changes with how much sunlight they’re getting. To get the most out of a set of cells, you need make sure you’re drawing the maximum amount of power out of your cells.

[Nathaniel]’s Solar Energy Generator does just that. It can handle up to 500 Watts, sucks power down from a bank of solar cells and spits that out to a battery. That’s not everything; the project also has a microcontroller for measuring and displaying all the pertinent info, and some terminals to plug in a few DC loads.

While the Solar Energy Generator is designed for off the grid applications, this could easily augment a home installation on the cheap. If you want more than 500 Watts or so, you’ll want to look at a larger controller, but for anything under that, [Nathan] has you covered.

Videos below.

SpaceWrencherThe project featured in this post is a quarterfinalist in The Hackaday Prize.

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