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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Making Hydrogen With Solar Energy, With Oxygen And Heat A Bonus

Hydrogen is a useful gas. Whether you want to float an airship, fuel a truck, or heat an industrial process, hydrogen can do the job. However, producing it is currently a fraught issue. While it can be produced cleanly using renewable energy, it’s often much cheaper to split it out of hydrocarbon fuels using processes that generate significant pollution.

There are methods to generate hydrogen more efficiently, though, in a clean and sustainable process. that also produces useful heat and oxygen as byproducts. The key to the process? Concentrated sunshine.
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A black and white image of the Sun and Earth with a series of lines radiating out from the sun and bisecting rings circumscribed around it. On the Earth are three dots with the text "Active Server" on one exposed to the Sun and two dots representing "Inactive Server"s on the dark side.

Solar Protocol Envisions A Solar-Powered Web

The transition to low carbon energy is an important part of mitigating climate change, and the faster we can manage, the better. One project looking at how we could reduce the energy requirements of the web to more quickly adopt renewable energy is Solar Protocol.

Instead of routing requests to the fastest server when a user pulls up a website, Solar Protocol routes the request to the server currently generating the greatest amount of solar power. Once a user is on a website, the experience is energy-responsive. Website style and image resolution can range based on the power left in the active server’s batteries, including an image free low power mode.

Another benefit to the project’s energy efficiency approach is a focus on only the essential parts of a page and not any of the tracking or other privacy-endangering superfluous features present on many other websites. They go into much more depth in the Solar Protocol Manifesto. As a community project, Solar Protocol is still looking for more stewards since the network can go down if an insufficient number of servers are generating electricity.

For more details on the project that inspired Solar Protocol, check out this low-tech website.

New Renewable Energy Projects Are Overwhelming US Grids

It’s been clear for a long time that the world has to move away from fossil energy sources. Decades ago, this seemed impractical, when renewable energy was hugely expensive, and we were yet to see much impact on the ground from climate change. Meanwhile, prices for solar and wind installations have come down immensely, which helps a lot.

However, there’s a new problem. Power grids across the US simply can’t keep up with the rapid pace of new renewable installations. It’s a frustrating issue, but not an insurmountable one.

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Self-Cleaning Tech Could Help Solar Panels Keep Efficiency Up

Solar panels are a special kind of magic — turning light into useful electrical energy. However, they don’t work nearly as well when they’re covered in dust, dirt, and grime. Conventional solutions involve spraying panels down with pure water, which is expensive and wasteful, or dry scrubbing, which can cause efficiency loss through scratching the panels. However, innovative new methods may offer useful solutions in this area, as shared by EETimes.

Researchers at MIT have explored the use of electrostatic methods to remove dust from solar panels. By creating a sufficiently strong electrostatic field, dust particles can be compelled to leap off of solar panels. The cleaning method requires no water and is entirely non-contact. It uses a motor system to pass a charged electrode past the surface of the panels, with the opposite charge applied to the panels themselves. This repels the dust from the panels and onto the moving electrode.

Other methods include the use of special “self-cleaning” glass manufactured with a laser etching technique. The method, referred to as Direct Laser Interference Patterning, or DLIP, creates microscopic features on the order of 300 nm to 30 um on the surface of the glass. The pattern creates a so-called “functional surface” from which dirt simply slides off. The laser-etched pattern has no negative impact on transparency.

If these ideas prove practical, expect them to take off quickly. Commercially viable technologies spread fast in the renewable space, as we’ve seen with the rapid uptake of floating solar farms in recent years. 

Solar Powered Split Wireless Mechanical Keyboard

When thinking about a perfect keyboard, some of us have a veritable laundry list: split, hot-swapping, wireless, 3d printed, encoders, and a custom layout. The Aloidia keyboard by [Nguyen Vincent] has all that and more.

One of the first things to notice is a row of solar panels on the top, which trickle charge the keyboard. The keyboard uses 65uA in idle and 30uA when in a deep sleep. With the solar panels providing anywhere between 600-1200uAh a day, the battery should last a year and a half under even harsh conditions. The encoders were specially chosen to reduce pull-up power consumption. Given the focus on power and the lack of wires between the halves, you might wonder how the connection to the computer is handled. Does one-half handle the connection and use more power? The answer is that both talk to a dongle based around an nRF52840. This lets the keyboard halves idle most of the time and enables the dongle to handle the expensive communications to the host PC.

Instead of an e-paper screen in the top left, [Nguyen] placed a Sharp memory display. The 3D-printed case is stunning, with no visible screws on the top and tenting feet on the bottom. The two halves snap together very satisfactorily with the power of magnets (the printed palm rests also magnetically attach). Overall it is an incredibly well-thought-out keyboard with all sorts of bells and whistles.

There are project logs with detail to dig into and more videos and photos. We love a good keyboard journey like this one that went for a more ergonomic shape that meant more custom wiring.

Schematics are up on in the files section—video after the break.

Thanks [Shantanu] for the tip!

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Supercon 2022: Irak Mayer Builds Self-Sustainable Outdoor IoT Devices

[Irak Mayer] has been exploring IoT applications for use with remote monitoring of irrigation control systems. As you would expect, the biggest challenges for moving data from the middle of a field to the home or office are with connectivity and power. Obviously, the further away from urbanization you get, the sparser both these aspects become, and the greater the challenge.

[Irak] solves his connectivity problem by assuming there is some WiFi network within range, building a system around the Blues Wireless WiFi note card. Substituting their cellular card would be an option for applications out of WiFi range, but presumably without changing too much on the system and software side of things. Leveraging the Adafruit FeatherWing INA219, which is a bidirectional current sensor with an I2C interface, for both the power generation and system consumption measurements. For control, [Irak] is using an Adafruit ESP32 board, but says little more about the hardware. On the software side, [Irak] is using the Blues Wireless NoteHub for the initial connection, which then routes the collected data onto the Adafruit IoT platform for collation purposes. The final part of the hardware is a LiPo battery which is on standby to soak up any excess power available from the energy harvesting. This is monitored by an LC709203f battery fuel gauge.

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