Anyone tackling solar power for the first time will quickly find there’s a truly dizzying amount of information to understand and digest. You might think you just need to buy some solar panels, wire them together, and just sort of plug them in. But there are a hundred and one different questions about how they’ll be connected, the voltage of the panels, and the hardware for driving a load. [Michel], [case06], and [Martin Jäger] have set out to create a simpler and easier to understand charge controller named LibreSolar.
A charge controller is fundamentally a simple idea. The goal is to charge a battery with solar panels, which means it’s essentially just a heavy-duty DC/DC buck converter. What makes this project different is that it is an open platform built for extensibility.
There are UEXT connectors included for adding extra peripherals, and with some tweaks to the STM32 firmware, it would be easy to handle small wind turbines (with some rectification to convert to DC, of course). LibreSolar seems to be designed with an eye towards creating a nano-scale localized networked grid. For example, they’ve developed a Raspberry Pi Zero module that uses WiFi to create a CAN bus allowing the boxes to communicate their maximum voltage to each other. This makes the system as plug-and-play as possible, as the bus doesn’t require a master controller to communicate.
With features such as MPPT (Maximum Power Point Tracking), 20 amp peak charging, a USB interface for updating, and several built-in protection mechanisms, it’s clearly a well thought through project. We look forward to seeing it deployed in the real world!
[Vadim Panov]’s 3D printed solar harvester is in effect a rechargeable outdoor battery, and the real challenge he faced when designing it was having it handle the outdoors reliably. The good news is that part is solved, and his newest design is now also flexible enough to handle a variety of common and economical components such as different battery connectors, charge controllers, and solar panel sizes. All that’s left is to set it up using the GoPro-style mounting clamp and let it soak up those solar rays.
We saw his first version earlier this year, which uses inventive and low-cost solutions for weatherproofing like coating the 3D print with epoxy (the new version makes this easier and less messy, by the way.) It was a fine design, but only worked with one specific solar panel size and one specific configuration of parts. His newest version makes a few mechanical improvements and accommodates a wide variety of different components and solar panel sizes. The CAD files are all available on the GitHub repository but he’s conveniently provided STL files for about a dozen common sizes.
When it comes to harvesting light, staying indoors offers less power but requires a far less rugged setup. If that interests you, be sure to check out the Tiny Solar Energy Module (TSEM) which can scrape up even indoor light.
At first glance, adding solar power to your project might seem easy. Get a photovoltaic panel, point it towards the big ball of burning gas in the sky, and off you go. But in reality, there’s a bit more to it than that. Especially when you’re trying to do something on a small scale. Without a rooftop full of panels pumping out power, you’ve got to take what you can get.
If you’re looking to power small electronic devices such as sensors with a single solar panel, [Vadim Panov] has put together a very concise write-up and video on building a low-cost solar harvester. It combines a relatively small photovoltaic panel, a charging circuit, and a battery for energy storage into a easily mountable package. He’s provided all the details necessary to create your own version, all you have to do now is come up with the application for it.
As far as the electronics go, this project is about as straightforward as it gets. The three watt panel is connected up to a simplistic charging circuit, which in turn feeds into a single 18650 cell. You might be wondering why a charge controller is even necessary in such a simple set up. One problem is that the output voltage of the panel is higher than that of the battery. You also need a blocking diode that will prevent the battery from discharging into the cell during the night or in cloudy conditions.
While the electronics might seem elementary to some readers, we think the 3D printed case alone is worth taking a look at. Not only has [Vadim] come up with a design that perfectly encloses the fragile solar panel and associated electronics, but in the video after the break, he also explains how the entire thing can be made waterproof with an epoxy coating. As 3D prints can have a tendency to be porous, this technique is definitely something you should file away mentally if you’ve been thinking of deploying a printed enclosure outdoors.
Whether you’re looking to power environmental sensors for as near a century as is technically possible or a portable OpenWRT router for mobile anonymity, these small solar panels hold a lot of promise if you know how to work around their limitations.
Continue reading “Soak Up The Sun With This 3D Printed Solar Harvester”
There’s nothing wrong with building something just to build it, but there’s something especially satisfying about being able to solve a real-world problem with a piece of gear you’ve designed and fabricated. When all the traditional methods to keep birds from roosting on his mother’s property failed, [MNMakerMan] decided to come up with a more persuasive option: a solar powered spinning owl complete with expandable batons.
We imagine the owl isn’t strictly necessary when you’re whacking the birds with a metal bar to begin with, but it does add a nice touch. Perhaps it will even serve to deter some of the less adventurous birds before they get within clobbering distance, which is probably in their best interest. [MNMakerMan] says the rotation speed of the bars seems low enough that he doesn’t think it will do the birds any physical harm, but it’s still got to be fairly unpleasant.
At first glance you might think that this contraption simply spins when the small 10 watt photovoltaic panel next to it catches the sun, but there’s actually a bit more to it than that. Sure he probably could just have it spin constantly whenever the sun is up, but instead [MNMakerMan] is using a ATtiny85 to control the 11 RPM geared DC motor with a IRF540 MOSFET. By adding a DS3231 RTC module into the mix, he’s able to not only accurately control when the spinner begins and ends its bird-busting shift, but implement timed patterns rather than running it the whole time. All of which can of course be fine-tuned by adjusting a couple variables and reflashing the chip.
We’ve seen plenty of automated systems for keeping cats away, and of course squirrels are a common target for such builds as well, but devices to deter birds are considerably less common among these pages. So it would seem that, at least for now, [MNMakerMan] has the market cornered on solar bird smashing gadgets. We’re sure Mom’s very proud.
Continue reading “Keeping Birds At Bay With An Automated Spinning Owl”
It’s often said that if something is worth doing it’s worth doing right, or maybe even worth overdoing. This is clearly a concept that [ANTALIFE] takes very seriously, as made abundantly clear by projects like the solar powered “beating” heart he made as a gift for his wife. What for most of us would have ended up being a junk bin build becomes a considerable engineering project in his hands, with a level of research and fine tuning that’s frankly staggering.
But [ANTALIFE] didn’t put this much thought into the device just for fun. He wants it to remain functional for as long as 30 years, and hopes he and the missus can still look on it fondly in their retirement years. Keeping an electronic device up and running for decades straight means you need to look carefully at each component and try to steer clear of any potential pitfalls.
The biggest one was the battery. More specifically, the fact he couldn’t use one. The lifetime of most rechargeable batteries is measured in hundreds of cycles, which for a device which will be charged by solar every day, means the battery is going to start showing its age in only 4 to 5 years. That simply wasn’t going to cut it.
[ANTALIFE] did some digging and realized that the solution was to use a supercapacitor, specifically the AVX SCMS22C255PRBA0. This is little wonder is rated for a staggering half million cycles, which in theory means that even with daily use it should still take a charge in the year 3300. In practice of course there are a lot of variables which will reduce that lifetime such as temperature fluctuations and the Earth being conquered by apes; but no matter what caveats you put on the figure it should still make 30 years without breaking a sweat.
Similar thought was given to choosing a solar cell with a suitably long lifetime, and he did plenty of testing and experimentation with his charging circuit, including some very nice graphs showing efficiency over time, to make sure it was up to snuff. Finally he walks the reader though his light-sensitive ring oscillator circuit which gives the device its pleasing “breathing” effect once the lights go down.
We’d love to bring you an update on this device in 30 years to see how close [ANTALIFE] got, but as we’re still trying to work the kinks out of the mobile version of the site we can’t make any guarantees about what the direct-brain interface version of HaD might look like. In the meantime though, you can read up on the long term battle between supercapacitors and traditional batteries.
Continue reading “Solar Heart Engineered To Beat For Decades”
Running a server completely off solar power seems like it would be a relatively easy thing to do: throw up a couple of panels, tack on a charge controller and a beefy battery, and away you go. But the reality is somewhat different. Most of us hackers are operating on a relatively limited budget and probably don’t have access to the kind of property you need to put out big panels; both pretty crippling limitations. Doing solar on a small-scale is hard, and unless you really plan ahead your setup will probably be knocked out on its first cloudy day.
So when [Kris de Decker] wanted to create a solar-powered version of his site “Low-tech Magazine”, he went all in. Every element of the site and the hardware it runs on was investigated for potential power savings, and luckily for us, the entire process was written up in meticulous detail (non-solar version here). The server still does go down from time to time if the weather is particularly poor, but in general it maintains about 90% uptime in Barcelona, Spain.
The solar side of the equation is fairly simple. There’s a 50 watt photovoltaic panel charging a 12V 7Ah lead-acid battery though a 20A charge controller. With an average of 4 to 6 hours of sunlight a day, the panel generates 300 Wh of electricity in the best case scenario; which needs to be split between charging the battery and running the server itself.
As for the server, [Kris] chose the Olimex Olinuxino A20 Lime 2 in part because of it being open source hardware, but also because it’s very energy-efficient and includes a AXP209 power management chip. Depending on processor load, the Olimex board draws between 1 and 2.5 watts of power, which combined with charging losses and such means the system can run through two days of cloudy weather before giving up the ghost. A second battery might be added in the future to help improve the run time during low-light conditions, but for now its been working pretty well.
Perhaps the most interesting part of the whole project are the lengths to which the website itself was optimized to keep resource utilization as low as possible. Images are compressed using dithering to greatly reduce their file sizes, and the site eschews modern design in favor of a much less processor intensive static layout. There’s even a battery capacity display integrated into the page through some clever use of CSS. Even if you aren’t looking to set up your own sun worshiping website, there are tips here for building efficient web pages that could absolutely be put to use in other projects.
If you’re interested in solar projects, we’ve got you covered. From an open source charge controller to building DIY photovoltaic panels, there’s plenty of prior art you should find very…illuminating. Please clap.
A few years ago, [Lukas Fässler] needed a solar charge controller and made his own, which he has been improving ever since. The design is now mature, and the High Efficiency MPPT Solar Charger is full of features like data logging, boasts a 97% efficiency over a range of 1 to 75 Watts, and can be used as a standalone unit or incorporated as a module into other systems. One thing that became clear to [Lukas] during the process was that a highly efficient, feature-rich, open-sourced hardware solution for charge controllers just didn’t exist, at least not with the features he had in mind.
Data logging and high efficiency are important for a charge controller, because batteries vary in their characteristics as they recharge and the power generated from things like solar panels varies under different conditions and loads. An MPPT (Maximum Point Power Tracking) charger is a smart unit optimized to handle all these changing conditions for maximum efficiency. We went into some detail on MPPT in the past, and after three years in development creating a modular and configurable design, [Lukas] hopes no one will have to re-invent the wheel when it comes to charge controllers.