The PhotonPower Zero board laying on a desk surface

PhotonPower Zero For Effortless Solar Pi Zero Projects

A Pi Zero doesn’t need much to sustain itself, and it’s projects like the PhotonPower Zero that remind us of it its low appetite when we need this reminder most. The PhotonPower Zero board lets you power a Pi Zero board from a solar cell, with a LiIon backup, and a microcontroller for power management. Created by [David Murray], this board’s been a perfect solution for quite a few projects of his, and now he is sharing the design so that we can create outdoor-suited devices as easily as he’s been able to.

Tested for months in Australian summer and winter conditions alike, the design pulls no punches and has everything you might need. Like any self-respecting power addon, it has a management microcontroller for going as low-power as you’d like, communicating the battery data to the Pi Zero, and being able to safely shut it down when needed. If you fancy what this board does, [David Murray] tells you all, both in the video and in the associated posts!

One of the best parts about this board is that it’s fully open-source – schematics, KiCad PCB source files, and even 3D designs are available in the GitHub repo. You could source all the parts right now and build a fleet of solar-powered Zeros, and if you want the hard parts to be done for you, there’s a Kickstarter campaign that lets you get a PhotonPower Zero board without self-assembly. We’ve covered similar boards before – powering a Pi Zero isn’t lost art, and, there’s a lot to learn from this project specifically. Such boards are especially tempting, given that the latest Pi Zero W 2 is the most efficient Pi Zero to date – outdoor-capable 24/7 powered devices with a fair bit of CPU have never been this close!

Continue reading “PhotonPower Zero For Effortless Solar Pi Zero Projects”

Folding Solar Panel Is Underpowered

If you hang out on certain kinds of sites, you can find huge-capacity USB drives and high-power yet tiny solar panels, all at shockingly low prices. Of course, the USB drives just think they are huge, and the solar panels don’t deliver the kind of power they claim. That seems to be the case with [Big Clive’s] latest folding solar panel purchase. The nice thing about the Internet is you can satisfy your urge to tear things open to see what’s inside of them vicariously instead of having to buy a lot of junk yourself. Thanks [Clive]!

The picture on the website didn’t match the actual product, which was the first sign, of course. The panel’s output in full sun was around 2.5 watts instead of the claimed 10 watts. He’s also seen sellers claim they are between 20 and 80-watt panels. But the interesting bits are when [Clive] decides to rip the panel into pieces and analyze the controller board.

Continue reading “Folding Solar Panel Is Underpowered”

Stacking Solar Cells Is A Neat Trick To Maximise Efficiency

Solar power is already cheap and effective, and it’s taking on a larger role in supplying energy needs all over the world. The thing about humanity, though, is that we always want more! Too much, you say? It’s never enough!

The problem is that the sun only outputs so much energy per unit of area on Earth, and solar cells can only be so efficient thanks to some fundamental physical limits. However, there’s a way to get around that—with the magic of tandem solar cells!

Continue reading “Stacking Solar Cells Is A Neat Trick To Maximise Efficiency”

Making A Dye-Sensitized Solar Cell Is Almost DIY-able

We see plenty of solar projects here on Hackaday, but they primarily consist of projects that use an off-the-shelf solar panel to power something else. We see very few projects where people actually create their own solar panels. And yet, that’s precisely what [Shih Wei Chieh] has done!

The project consists of a large dye-sensitized solar panel. These are a type of solar panel that can easily be created by the DIY builder, though their efficiency leaves something to be desired versus the best commercial types available. However, you can build them in any way you like to suit your application, which can have some potential benefits.

It consists of two pieces of FTO glass that is etched and prepared to become the electrodes for a string of solar cells. The cells have to be treated with titanium dioxide and then laced with silver traces, before being assembled with liquid electrolyte squirted in between. It’s finicky stuff, but the video almost makes it look easy… if you’re familiar with working in a chemistry lab, that is.

While it’s DIY-able, it’s at the outer edge of what some of us would be comfortable with. It does involve some steps with semi-obscure chemicals and the use of a kiln to produce the cells. The design shown here outputs around 5.8 volts and 51 milliamps. It’s not heaps, but it’s enough to run a low-power project for some time in an area with decent sun.

We’ve seen some other great solar projects over the years, too! Video after the break.

Continue reading “Making A Dye-Sensitized Solar Cell Is Almost DIY-able”

Bending Light To Fit Technology

Solar power is an excellent way of generating electricity, whether that’s for an off-grid home or for the power grid. With no moving parts maintenance is relatively low, and the downsides of burning fuel are eliminated as well. But as much as it’s revolutionized power generation over the last few decades, there’s still some performance gains to be made when it comes to the solar cells themselves. A team at Stanford recently made strides in improving cell efficiency by bending the properties of sunlight itself.

In order to generate electricity directly from sunlight, a photon with a specific amount of energy needs to strike the semiconductor material. Any photons with higher energy will waste some of that energy as heat, and any with lower energy won’t generate electricity. Previous methods to solve this problem involve using something similar to a prism to separate the light out into colors (or energies) that correlate to specific types of cells calibrated specifically for those colors. This method does the opposite: it changes the light itself to an color that fits the semiconductor material. In short, a specialized material converts the energy from two lower-energy photons into a single higher-energy photon, which then strikes the solar panel to create energy.

By adding these color-changing materials as a layer to a photovoltaic solar panel, the panel can generate more energy with a given amount of light than a traditional panel. The major hurdle, as with any research, is whether or not this will be viable when produced at scale, and this shows promise in that regard as well. There are other applications for these materials beyond photovoltaics as well, and the researchers provide an excellent demonstration in 3D printing. By adding these color-change materials to resin, red lasers can be used instead of blue or ultraviolet lasers to cure resin in extremely specific locations, leading to stronger and more accurate prints.

Solar Powered Flower Chases The Light

Many plants are capable of tracking the sun in order to get the most possible light. [hannu_hell] built a solar powered sculpture that replicates this light sensitivity for the benefit of better charging its own batteries, allowing it to run theoretically indefinitely where suitable light was available.

The 3D-printed flower features six movable petals mounted on an articulated stem. The flower’s leaves themselves bear solar panels that collect energy, analogous to leaves on a plant. A Raspberry Pi Pico is at the heart of the show, which is outfitted with a DS1307 real-time clock and a ST7735 TFT display for displaying date and time information. It’s also responsible for controlling servos that aim the flower’s solar panels towards the brightest light source available. This is achieved by using the Pico to read several photoresistors to determine light levels and adjust the leaves accordingly.

It’s a fun build, and one that could teach useful lessons relevant to even large-scale solar arrays. Video after the break.

Continue reading “Solar Powered Flower Chases The Light”

Two nearly-identical black and white images of a solar installation on top of a roof in NYC. The left image purports to be from 1909 while the other says it is from 1884. Both show the same ornate building architecture in the background and angle of the panels.

The Mysterious Case Of The Disappearing Inventor

When combing through the history of technological innovation, we often find that pinning down a given inventor of something can be tricky. [Foeke Postma] at Bellingcat shows us that even the Smithsonian can get it wrong when given faulty information.

The mystery in question is the disappearance of inventor [George Cove] from a photograph of his solar panel system from 1909 and its reuse as evidence of the first photovoltaic solar panel by another inventor, [Charles Fritts], around 1884. Questions first arose about this image in 2021, but whether this was an example of photo manipulation was merely speculation at the time.

Continue reading “The Mysterious Case Of The Disappearing Inventor”