Sun On The Run: Diving Into Solar With A Mobile PV System

For obvious reasons, there has been a lot of interest in small-scale residential solar power systems lately. Even in my neck of the woods, where the sun doesn’t shine much from October to April, solar arrays are sprouting up on rooftops in a lot of local neighborhoods. And it’s not just here in suburbia; drive a little way out into the country or spend some time looking around in Google maps and it won’t take long to spy a sizable array of PV panels sitting in a field next to someone’s ranch house or barn.

Solar has gotten to the point where the expense of an installation is no longer a serious barrier to entry, at least if you’re willing to put in a little sweat equity and not farm the project out to a contractor. Doing it yourself requires some specialized tools and knowledge, though, over and above your standard suite of DIY skills. So, in the spirit of sharing hard-won knowledge, I decided to take the somewhat unusual step of writing up one of my personal projects, which has been in progress for a couple of years now and resulted in a solar power system that isn’t on a rooftop or a ground-mounted array at all, but rather is completely mobile: my solar trailer.

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A white longtail cargo bike sits on grass with fenced-in planters behind it. The bike has a basket made of black metal tubes on the front and a passenger compartment behind the rider seat for children made of similar black metal tubes. A white canopy is above the passenger compartment and a solar panel sits atop the canopy.

Solar Powered E-bike Replaces Car Trips

E-bikes can replace car trips for some people, and adding a solar panel can make the fun last longer. [Luke] did some heavy modifications to his RadWagon to make it better, stronger, and faster than it was before.

The first step was replacing the stock 750 W controller with a 1500 W model to give the motor twice the power. [Luke] plans to replace the motor if it gets fried pushing too much juice, but is planning on just being careful for now. To stop this super-powered ride, he swapped the stock mechanical discs out for a hydraulic set which should be more reliable, especially when loading down this cargo bike.

On top of these performance enhancements, he also added a 50 W solar panel and maximum power point tracking (MPPT) charge controller to give the bike a potential 50% charge every day. Along with the OEM kid carrier and roof, this bike can haul kids and groceries while laughing at any hills that might come its way.

Checkout this other solar e-bike or this one making a trip around the world for more fun in the sun.

Ebike Charges In The Sun

Ebikes are slowly taking the place of many cars, especially for short trips. Most ebikes can take riders at least 16 kilometers (10 miles) without too much effort, at a cost that’s often a single-digit percentage of what the same trip would have been with an internal combustion engine. If you’re interested in dropping the costs of your ebike trips even further, or eliminating it entirely, take a look at this small ebike with integrated solar panels.

While any battery can be charged with a sufficiently large array of solar panels and the correct electronics to match the two systems together, this bike has a key that sets it apart from most others: it can charge while it is being used to power the bike. Most ebikes don’t have charging enabled during rides, so if you want to use the sun while riding to extend the range of the bike you’ll need to find one like this. This bike uses two 50 W panels on the two cargo areas of the bike, attached to a 400 W MPPT charge controller. The Lectric XP 2.0 ebike has a motor with a peak rating of 850 W, but in a low pedal-assist mode the solar panels likely output a significant fraction of the energy used by the electric drivetrain.

Even if the panels don’t provide the full amount of energy needed for riding around, the project’s creator [Micah] lives in Florida, so just setting the bike outside in the sun for six to eight hours is enough to replenish most of the battery’s charge. It’s probably not going to win any solar-powered bike races anytime soon, but for an efficient, quick bike to ride around town it’s not too shabby.

Hackaday Prize 2022: Compact Solar Tracking System Doesn’t Break The Bank

If you need to squeeze every available watt out of a solar panel, you’ll probably want to look into a solar tracking system. Unfortunately, they are usually quite large, heavy, and expensive. As an alternative, [JP Gleyzes] has put together a DIY solar tracking system that aims to address these issues.

Starting with a 100 W flexible solar panel purchased during a Black Friday sale, [JP] first created a simple frame using 20 mm PVC tubing and a few 3D printed brackets. It mounts on a wooden base with a printed worm gear rotation mechanism, powered by a stepper motor. The tilt is a handled by a lead screw made from a threaded rod, connected between the wooden base and the top of the solar panel, and is also driven by a stepper motor.

For even more efficiency, [JP] also created an MPPT charge controller with companion app using an ESP32, modified 20 A buck converter, and current sensor module. The ESP32 also controls the stepper motors. The optimum angle for the solar panel determined using the date, time, and the system’s GPS position. [JP] had also created a simple Android app to calibrate the panels’ start position.

This project is a finalist in the Planet-Friendly Power challenge of the 2022 Hackaday Prize, and all the details to build your own are available on your project page. Looking at the size of the system, we suspect future iterations could be even smaller.

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Maximum Power Point Tracking: Optimizing Solar Panels

When looking at integrating a photovoltaic solar panel into a project, the naive assumption would be that you simply point the panel into the general direction of where the Sun is, and out comes gobs of clean DC power, ready to be used for charging a battery. To a certain extent this assumption is correct, but feeding a solar panel’s output into something like a regular old PWM buck or boost regulator is unlikely to get you anywhere close to the panel’s full specifications.

The keywords here are ‘maximum power point’ (MPP), which refers to the optimal point on the solar panel’s I-V curve. This is a property that’s important not only with photovoltaics, but also with wind turbines and other highly variable power sources. The tracking of this maximum power point is what is generally referred to as ‘MPPT‘, but within this one acronym many different algorithms are covered, each with its own advantages and disadvantages. In this article we’ll take a look at what these MPPT algorithms are, and when you would want to pick a particular one.

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2022 Hackaday Prize: Get Your Planet-Friendly Power On!

Time flies! This weekend marks the end of the first stage of the 2022 Hackaday Prize, and your chance to enter your alternative-energy projects. There are ten $500 prizes up for grabs, and there’s still time to whip up a project page over on to showcase it.

In this round, we’re looking for projects that harvest their own energy — solar, wind, heat, vibration, you name it — or projects that make it easier to collect, store, or use renewable energy. Whether this is microwatts or megawatts, the scale of the project is up to you! As long as it’s using or making it easier to use clean energy, we want to see it.

So far, we’ve seen some great projects, ranging from a optimizes the tilt angle of a home solar installation to a demonstration of using a new type of lithium-ion capacitor to add solar power to smaller projects. We really love [MartMet]’s simple Bluetooth thermometer hack, which adds a supercapacitor and solar cell to an outdoor thermometer, and then uses hacked firmware to log the charge status over a year of use! We’re suckers for good data.

The sun is not the only game in town, though. There are a surprising number of projects based on human energy production in emergency situations, from cranking to shaking. Thermionic converters were new to us, but we love explorations of fringe tech. Other traditional favorites like wind and water may make more sense for larger applications. And don’t forget how you’re going to store all this juice you’ve collected.

In short, we’ve got a bunch of great entries, but we’re still missing yours! There’s no minute like the last minute: if you’ve done some work in clean or renewable energy, set yourself up a project page now. You’ll help make all our projects cleaner, and stand a good chance of taking home some real money to boot!

Once we’ve handled power, the next round is “Reuse, Recycle, Revamp” where any tech that uses recycled parts or facilitates reuse, repair, or recycling is fair game!

Tracking Maximum Power Point For Solar Efficiency

In days of yore when solar panels weren’t dirt cheap, many people (and even large energy companies) used solar trackers to ensure their panels were always physically pointed at the sun to make sure they harvested every watt of energy possible. Since the price of panels has plummeted, though, it’s not economical to install complex machines to track the sun anymore. But all solar farms still track something else, called the Maximum Power Point (MPP), which ensures that even stationary panels are optimized for power production.

While small MPP trackers (MPPT) are available in solar charge controllers in the $200 range that are quite capable for small off-grid setups, [ASCAS] aka [TechBuilder] decided to roll out an open source version with a much lower price tag since most of the costs of these units are in R&D rather than in the actual components themselves. To that end, the methods that he uses for his MPPT are essentially the same as any commercial unit, known as synchronous buck conversion. This uses a specially configured switch-mode power supply (SMPS) in order to match the power output of the panels to the best power point for any given set of conditions extremely rapidly. It even works on many different battery configurations and chemistries, all configurable in software.

This build is incredibly extensive and goes deep into electrical theory and design choices. One design choice of note is the use of an ESP32 over an Arduino due to the higher resolution available when doing analog to digital conversion. There’s even a lengthy lecture on inductor core designs, and of course everything on this project is open source. We have also seen the ESP32 put to work with MPPT before, although in a slightly less refined but still intriguing way.

Thanks to [Sofia] for the tip!

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