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!

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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.

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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!

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Could Solar-Powered Airships Offer Cleaner Travel?

The blimp, the airship, the dirigible. Whatever you call them, you probably don’t find yourself thinking about them too often. They were an easy way to get airborne, predating the invention of the airplane by decades. And yet, they suffered—they were too slow, too cumbersome, and often too dangerous to compete once conventional planes hit the scene.

And yet! Here you are reading about airships once more, because some people aren’t giving up on this most hilarious manner of air travel. Yes, it’s 2024, and airship projects continue apace even in the face of the overwhelming superiority of the airplane.

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Solar Chimneys: Viable Energy Solution Or A Lot Of Hot Air?

We think of the power we generate as coming from all these different kinds of sources. Oil, gas, coal, nuclear, wind… so varied! And yet they all fundamentally come down to moving a gas through a turbine to actually spin up a generator and make some juice. Even some solar plants worked this way, using the sun’s energy to heat water into steam to spin some blades and keep the lights on.

A solar updraft tower works along these basic principles, too, but in a rather unique configuration. It’s not since the dawn of the Industrial Age that humanity went around building lots of big chimneys, and if this technology makes good sense, we could be due again. Let’s find out how it works and if it’s worth all the bluster, or if it’s just a bunch of hot air.

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How To Build A Small Solar Power System

We live in an exciting time with respect to electrical power, one in which it has never been easier to break free from mains electricity, and low-frequency AC power in general. A confluence of lower-power appliances and devices using low-voltage external switch-mode supplies, readily available solar panels and electronic modules, and inexpensive high-capacity batteries, means that being your own power provider can be as simple as making an online order.

But which parts should you choose? Low Tech Magazine has the answer, in the form of a guide to building a small solar power system. The result is an extremely comprehensive guide, and though it’s written for a general audience there’s still plenty of information for the Hackaday reader.

Perhaps the most important part is that it’s demystifying the subject, there in front of us are a set of pretty straightforward recipes for personal power. The computer this is being written on spends a significant proportion of its time on the road with the ever-present company of a very hefty USB-C power pack for example, and the realization that a not-too-expensive solar panel and USB PD source could lessen the range anxiety and constant search for a train seat with a socket for a writer on the move is quite a powerful one.

Take a look and see whether your life could use bit of inexpensive off-grid power, meanwhile we’re quite pleased that the USB-C PD standard has eased some of the DC problems we expressed frustration at back in 2016.

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.

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