Giving Solar Power’s Mortal Enemies A Dusting Without Wasting Water

A prerequisite for photovoltaic (PV) and concentrated solar power (CSP) technologies to work efficiently is as direct an exposure to the electromagnetic radiation from the sun as possible. Since dust and similar particulates are excellent at blocking the parts of the EM spectrum that determine their efficiency, keeping the panels and mirrors free from the build-up of dust, lichen, bird droppings and other perks of planetary life is a daily task for solar farm operators. Generally cleaning the panels and mirrors involves having trucks drive around with a large water tank to pressure wash the dirt off, but the use of so much water is problematic in many regions.

Keeping PV panels clean is also a consideration on other planets than Earth. So far multiple Mars rovers and landers have found their demise at the hands of Martian dust after a layer covered their PV panels, and Moon dust (lunar regolith) is little better. Despite repeated suggestions by the peanut gallery to install wipers, blowers or similar dust removal techniques, keeping particulates from sticking to a surface is not as easy an engineering challenge as it may seem, even before considering details such as the scaling issues between a singular robot on Mars versus millions of panels and mirrors on Earth.

There has been research into the use of the electrostatic effect to repel dust, but is there a method that can keep both solar-powered robots on Mars and solar farms on Earth clean and sparkling, rather than soiled and dark?

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Increasing PV Solar Cell Efficiency Through Cooling

An unavoidable aspect of photovoltaic (PV) solar panels is that they become less efficient when they warm up. [Tech Ingredients] explains in a new video the basic reason for this, which involves the input of thermal energy affecting the semiconductor material. In the subsequent experiment, it is demonstrated how cooling the backside of the panel affects the panel’s power output.

There are commercial solutions that use water cooling on the back of panels to draw heat away from panels, but this still leaves the issues of maintenance (including winter-proofing) and dumping the heat somewhere. One conceivable solution for the latter is to use this heat for a household’s hot water needs. In the demonstrated system a heatsink is installed on the back of the panel, with fans passing cool air over the heatsink fins.

On a 100 Watt PV panel, 10 W was lost from the panel heating up in the sun. After turning on the fans, the panel dropped over 10 °C in temperature, while regaining 5.5 W. Since the installed fans consumed about 3 W, this means that the fans cost no extra power but resulted in increased production. Not only that, but the lower temperatures will in theory extend the panel’s lifetime. Though even with active cooling, even the best of PV panels will need to be replaced after a couple decades.

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Breakers for the system on a DIN rail, with markings like 48V and 24V and 12V and so on on the bottom, and two hefty devices of some kind on the bottom, probably MPTT controllers, with hefty wires running from them.

Low-Voltage DC Network Build Incited By Solar Panels

Nowadays, some people in Europe worry about energy prices climbing, and even if all the related problems disappear overnight, we’ll no doubt be seeing some amounts of price increase. As a hacker, you’re in a good position to evaluate the energy consuming devices at your home, and maybe even do something about them. Well, [Peter] put some solar panels on his roof, but couldn’t quite figure out a decent way to legally tie them into the public grid or at least his flat’s 220V network. Naturally, a good solution was to create an independent low-voltage DC network in parallel and put a bunch of devices on it instead!

He went with 48V, since it’s a voltage that’s high enough to be efficient, easy to get equipment like DC-DCs for, safe when it comes to legal matters concerned, and overall compatible with his solar panel setup. Since then, he’s been putting devices like laptops, chargers and lamps onto the DC rail instead of having them be plugged in, and his home infrastructure, which includes a rack full of Raspberry Pi boards, has been quite content running 24/7 from the 48V rail. There’s a backup PSU from regular AC in case of overcast weather, and in case of grid power failures, two hefty LiFePO4 accumulators will run all the 48V-connected appliances for up to two and a half days.

The setup has produced and consumed 115kWh within the first two months – a hefty contribution to a hacker’s energy independence project, and there’s enough specifics in the blog post for all your inspiration needs. This project is a reminder that low-voltage DC network projects are a decent choice on a local scale – we’ve seen quite viable proof-of-concept projects done at hackercamps, but you can just build a small DC UPS if you’re only looking to dip your feet in. Perhaps, soon we’ll figure out a wall socket for such networks, too.

Ask Hackaday: How Can You Store Energy At Home?

Amidst the discussions about grid-level energy storage solutions, it is often easy to forget that energy storage can be done on the level of a single house or building as well. The advantages here are that no grid management is needed, with the storage (electrical, thermal, etc.) absorbing the energy as it becomes available, and discharging it when requested. This simplifies the scale of the problem and thus the associated costs significantly.

Perhaps the most common examples of such systems are solar thermal collectors with an associated hot water storage tank, and of course batteries. More recently, the idea of using a battery electric vehicle (BEV, ‘electric car’) as part of a home storage solution is also gaining traction, especially for emergencies where the grid connection has failed due to a storm or similar emergencies. But all-in-all, we don’t see many options for home-level energy storage.

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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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Spiffy Summer Project Sources Solar Sounds From Scraps

[Gijs Gieskes] has a long history of producing electronic art and sound contraptions, and his Zonneliedjes (sunsongs) project is certainly an entertaining perpetuation of his sonic creations. With the stated goal of making music from sunlight, the sunsongs most prominent feature is solar panels.

Although It’s not clear how the photons transform into the rhythmic crashes and random beep-boop sounds, the results are quite satisfying. We have a strong suspicion that the same principals that turn random junk into BEAM robots are at work, maybe with some circuit bending sprinkled on for good measure. One detail we were able to glean from a picture of the device he calls “mobile” was a 40106 oscillator, which [Gijs] has used in previous projects.

The construction style that [Gijs] uses reminds us of the “Manhattan” construction style the amateur radio homebrewing community favors. Squares of copper PCB are glued directly to the back of the solar cells and the circuits are built atop them. Looking carefully at the pictures we can also see what look like cutoff leads, suggesting a healthy amount of experimentation to get the desired results, which we can all relate to.

Be sure to check out the video after the break, and also [Gijs] website. He’s been hacking away at projects such as these for a very long time, and we’ve even featured his projects going back more than 15 years. Thanks for the continued hacks, [Gijs]. We look forward to seeing what you come up with next!

If the terms “BEAM robotics” and “circuit bending” are unfamiliar to your ears (or if a refresh is due), be sure to check out our recent re-introduction to BEAM robotics and our classic “Intro to Circuit Bending” to get acquainted. Continue reading “Spiffy Summer Project Sources Solar Sounds From Scraps”

Using Super-Efficient Solar Cells To Keep Your Electric Car’s Battery Topped Up

Who hasn’t thought of sticking a couple of solar panels onto an electric car’s roof to keep its battery at 100% charge while it’s parked out in the sun? While usually deemed impossible due to the large number and weight of PV solar cells required to get the necessary amount of energy, this hasn’t kept Toyota’s engineers from covering one of their Prius cars with 34+% efficient solar cells.

Some may remember the solar roof option which Toyota previously offered years ago. That system produced a mere 50 W and was only used for things like running the AC fans, indirectly extending the battery charge. In 2016 Toyota brought back this system, in a much improved version. This upped the power output to 180 W, allowing it to power all secondary electronics in the Prius, even allowing it to add a few extra kilometers (roughly 6.1 km/day) to the Prius’ range if one were so inclined.

This newest prototype pretty much goes for broke, reminding us of the cars used in the World Solar Challenge, such as the Dutch Stella and Stella Lux positive-energy solar cars by the team at the University of Eindhoven. Who coincidentally have done a spin-off, setting up a company to produce the Lightyear One, which at least on paper sounds amazing, and potentially may never have to plug it in.

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