Open Source Solar

What’s the size of a standard euro-palette, goes together in 15 minutes, and can charge 120 mobile phones at one time? At least one correct answer is Sunzilla, the open source solar power generator. The device does use some proprietary components, but the entire design is open source. It contains solar panels, of course, as well as storage capacity and an inverter.

You can see a video about the project below. The design is modular so you can pick and choose what you want. It also is portable, stackable, and easy to transport. The team claims they generate 900W of solar power and can store 4 kWh. Because of the storage device, the peak power out is 1600W and the output is 230V 50Hz AC.

The storage component is the heaviest part, of course. The entire thing weighs under 200 pounds without batteries. With them, the weight leaps to about 550 pounds.

Although the focus is on impoverished places, it would be easy to imagine a ham radio club using something like this for Field Day operations or working in disaster areas. Outdoor festivals could use something like this, too.

We have covered many solar power builds, but this one is particularly complete and modular. Then again, if all you want to do is heat your redneck hot tub, Sunzilla might be overkill.

66 thoughts on “Open Source Solar

  1. 900W from that surface area? And it looks like plastic weather cover, which is two more reflective surfaces? Even if normal to the sun with tracking from say 9 to 3, that is darn good.

    1. I call marketing bs on this, no measurements are provided. The panels don’t output that much, we had the same thin semi-flex panels running at high noon at burning man..

          1. True, solar panels seem specced for noon on the Equator, then double it for good luck. Dunno where our guy is based, but from the photograph and the 230V mains, I’d say Europe. Much of Europe is overcast much of the time, and at temperate latitudes. In my experience in the UK, just a bit of tinkering with small panels, you’re lucky to get a tenth of specced power.

      1. It would be nice, HAD, if you were to enlighten those of us ignorant as to the “size of a standard euro-pallette”. Specifically, exactly WHAT a “euro-pallette” is, and what size they are (we would accept metric dimensions).

        Since you didn’t, I did some Googling, and can report that a “euro-pallette” is most likely a EUR-pallet, which is the “standard pallet as specified by the European Pallet Association (EPAL)”, according to Wikipedia:

        It’s 1,200 by 800 by 144 millimetres (47.2 in × 31.5 in × 5.7 in), according to the same source.

  2. I hate to criticize people who are actually trying to solve world problems, but I think some wheels on those boxes, either built-in or detachable, would be a great help for anyone who has to lug those boxes around.

    1. Hello, welcome to hackaday. While your kind of comment is not rare around here, I thought you might want to know about 2 choice words in the article: Open Source.

      Generally, that means just fucking do the damn thing to show people you know how and collaborating with/assisting others while helping yourself – vice the usually apathetic popcorn gallery do nothing, say nothing special, be nothing.

      Thanks for visiting.

      1. 1. This is not actually being all that critical of the project.
        2. Put wheels on your giant, heavy box which is supposed to be portable.
        3. Open Source means when someone comes along and says “Hey, that unwieldy box you are trying to carry could use some wheels” means you can respond “STFU popcorn gallery”?

          1. It’s called a list you schmuck. Is this your fist time communicating with other life forms? Go back under your bridge and practice a little more.

          2. Rawr, I’m better than the internet.

            #5 could have been divided up into 3 more entries to continue on with your joke there friend. It would probably have been much funnier too.

            Back to the point, why is a friendly comment about a handy addition to a project on a website dedicated to getting lots of people to make suggestions about projects deserving of a tangential rant about open-source? I’d rather [dana’s] comments than your aggressive idiocy.

      1. Hi dynamodan,
        yes, you are totally right – the Prototype depicted in the article is actually already out-dated. We were advancing it over the past years, integrationg all the comments off other people and uncluding experiences from customers. The new version is a lot smaller (output power around 350 W, Solar power 140 W, 1 kWh off storage), but it is modular – so you can stack them together as you like to fit your demands.

      1. It says it’s EUR-pallet size. I imagine it’s meant to be moved by standard pallet-moving equipment (forklift, pallet-jack). Which means even with no wheels or handles, it’d be relatively easy to move at any facility that has this fairly standard equipment. “Easy” is relative.

        1. Sure pallet sized is optimum for transport but, and here I go being overly critical again, they say the focus is on impoverished places. So pallet-moving equipment probably won’t be available.

          I don’t think I’ve ever seen a pallet jack at a field day operation. Heck, pallet-moving equipment are probably in short supply anyplace outside a warehouse or industrial environment.

          1. Do you have any other criticism that isn’t solved by adding handles and getting several people wearing gloves?
            Just how often do you think a solar array should be moved?

            “Heck, pallet-moving equipment are probably in short supply anyplace outside a warehouse or industrial environment.”
            Go to almost any farm.

          2. Have you ever been outside of a basement? There are pallet jacks and forks everywhere. Even in Guinea, Sudan, Burma and Uganda I saw them regularly. Some on tractor tires so they could maneuver over unfinished or dirt roads.

    2. Hi Dana,
      yes, we thought about putting weels, but there is pro and contra to that :) The weels must be designed for that weight and be able to transport thesystem even “off road”.
      People who transport stuff of similar volume and weight use a fork lift and so did we :)

  3. I love the initiative. Renewables are great, the video is nice, this concept is cool. I like that OS is breaking free from FLOSS and pure Arduino OSHW, but this is not cool.

    There should be a list of projects that use Open Source as a buzzword but don’t deliver. This instructables crap is awful, and there is no source code for that wireless controller given. And no CAD whatsoever. The homepage doesn’t link to a repository. Impossible to make use of the “open” source, I shall start from scratch instead of forking this. These guys have been working on this for years?? If this would be a student’s thesis there would at least be proper documentation with measurements and sources.

    1. That’d require some portion of it to be original design I guess. If your proprietary bits are all in how you put the corner brackets and slides together disgorging the unit there probably isn’t much to share more than “buy parts from aliexpress rated at specification X and Y”.

      The panels look like OTS chinese units (because we just got some of the same ones in to play with). If the electronics are also generic kit bought in that merely meets a specification needed then there probably isn’t much designed that they’d actually have to share. And from that parts list I’d assume that’s the case.

      So yea; I agree. Labeling it Open Source is a bit of a stretch.

      1. Well, he’s not gonna try stop you using his plans, that’s open as far as he’s concerned. For the rest, you’re free to extend it, and specify opener alternatives for the components, including your own designs, and open them too. Most successful open-source things are team efforts. Linux is like that, each person adding something they can program, often because it fills their need and wasn’t there before.

    2. Hi Lars,
      you’re right – until now the information published is not enough to build the SunZilla Solar Generator in a proper way. Please respect that we are working for a sallary of 0$ on that project. So we cannopt work full time on the project as we work elsewhere to get money for rent and food. In the following month we will publish more details. We want to publish a hollistic documnettaion including Sketches, Schematics, Software and so on. Also the homepage urgently needs an update – but you know, money and time are limited. Sorry for that.

      1. I feel your pain. Time is one commodity that I’m truly in short supply of. I am in the process of moving, and I cant believe the number of unfinished projects that were in boxes or had to be boxed up and carted to the new home. And a few didn’t make it.

    1. Hi there, thanks for your comment. Documenting takes a lot of time, but we still work hard to deliver a proper documentation. Also, the things we have built so far we’re real “prototypes”, meaning they come with problems and things that aren’t perfect at all. The version we are working on right now is really cool, will have less things that aren’t perfect and we will deliver a documentation, that allows teccis and nerds to build it on there own.

  4. What’s so special about this ? One of the guys at work built something like this in a weekend. Used high efficiency solar panels, LiFePO4 batteries/charger/battery management, Magnum pure sinewave power inverter, and put the thing on wheels with servo mount on the panels to track sun. So again, what’s so special about this so called “hack” ? (that’s no different than hundreds of other similar ones?).

    1. If you did a little reading, you would see they designed it to be modular, movable via an EU pallet size, have most of the spec be purchasable and redesignable and they released the plans on how to build it along with a BOM.

      (Every goddamn hackaday article ever)

        1. This is what happens when you rip ideas off Reddit too often. They link back.

          I feel like open-sourcing some sort of bum-dildo and releasing it on 4chan, see if that gets covered here.

    2. Yes, if you are geeky you can build a system like that yourself. But be aware that there is non geeky people out there who still want to use green energy. Also, the system can be transported and set up very quickly. So, bring the generator where you need energy and within 5 minutes its done. I dont think the guy from your work will do it in 5 minutes ;) So the framework is what makes it special.
      Also, the next version will come with control opportunities to operate that generator in an efficient way.

  5. I’d like to invite these builders to Nebraska where the wind almost never stops blowing and where intense gusts of wind are common. I’m sure that spending a week here trying to operate their units would force them to modify their design. I attend a week long “Star Party” annually and have to bring my own power (solar in my case) to run my equipment. My rig has to hold up to the occasional wicked blast and still be portable. I don’t see this design holding up for more than an afternoon here. A few hints: Triangles make rigidity. Galvanized Fencing Tubes are strong and light. Twist-in Dog Posts secure things nicely to the ground. Avoid producing AC power whenever possible and use DC devices mostly. (Sorry Tesla, but this is locally produced and consumed power :-) ) And one last thing, KEEP BUILDING. Just because I don’t like your design doesn’t mean I don’t like what you are trying to do. :-)

      1. Yes, I have considered a wind generator. They can be a great idea on permanent installations but less so for mobile. Call it personal bias, but all the flailing about of windmills intimidates me. Images of those things breaking loose and chopping me up like the big heavy thug in Raiders of the Lost Ark (in the plane propeller) come to mind. I consider the slow gradual motion of sun-tracking photovoltaics much less scary. Still, there sure is a lot of useful wind here. :-)

    1. Hi foxxup,
      thanks for your comments. Concerning the wind I want to add 2 things:
      1. Yes, the design in the picture is not made for high wind velocities. That is totally clear to us. Remember, it is a prototype and not perfect.
      2. Wind is also very nice to get electricity from. Using wind energy is definitley on our to do list as in some spots of the world there is more wind then sun. Also it sun and wind make a good combination as they have different feed in schedules. So, is the invitation to Nebraska still on? Then we’ll come! ;)

    1. Hi ID,
      yes, you are totally right – until now you will only find the documentation on instructables. Right now we are working on the next version and the entire documentation – includuing Hard- and Software. It will be published on our website. If you want to stay in touch, like us on Facebook or send us an email.

  6. “outdoor events” – like what?
    “social problem – lots of people don’t have access to energy” – no, that’s an economic problem
    “..[can’t] bring a whole grid to them – but you can bring sunzilla” – no, that makes the economic problem worse
    [for remote, and replacing noise and pollution of diesel] – tick
    “making people independent again from big power supplies” – that means nothing. Maybe the warm and fuzzy “off-grid” is what they’re trying to say.
    “I guess I could go to a big company.. earn a lot” – They must be rocket scientists to be able to just walk into a job like that!
    “Do something great” – This might not be it. But keep persisting.
    [misc. fluff] {work as a group, self-fulfilling} – I like to build stuff, get a problem and solve it. I don’t get teary about it.
    A team of maybe 6-8 for that? One could do it. (They had two operating a bench saw in one of those scenes!)

    Wouldn’t it be great if Autodesk Foundation funded one of the already awesome guys on Hackaday? Like that guy who made the wooden clock which writes on an Etch A Sketch pad.

    Cringworthy. I hope these guys find greater projects in their future, they may well laugh at this video in the future.

    1. Hi Todd,

      thanks for your post. Let me answer to your post following your structure :)

      “Outdoor Events”: Like Music Festivals, Street Parades, Open Air Cinemas
      “Social Problem”: Maybe social AND economical
      “I guess I could go to a big company.. earn a lot”: The job situation in our country is excellent for engineers. Doing a job for a big company definately gets your more money than our sallary right now (0$).
      “A team of maybe 6-8 for that”: the people you saw in the video are not necessarily working in the team, some just helped with a hand. And yes, if all the sketches, plans, Software was written and done, the job could be done by one person. But getting to that step takes a lot more brain power.

      I am sorry that you didnt’t like the project.

  7. Generally the people in Nebraska are pretty nice. Most are level headed, practical and are pretty happy to accommodate people trying to do constructive things. If you want to come to our star party, we’ve got some of the most beautiful dark skies available with lots of friendly people who are more than happy to show you the sky with their telescopes. We also have catered meals. Around here there are quite a few people who are interested in the combination of weather, astronomy, and technology. These star parties add in camping to the list and so we often find ourselves talking about solar. Come on over and feel welcome. www[dot]nebraskastarparty[dot]org Its a unique experience. :-)

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