Suntracker Optimizes Solar Panels While Visualizing Sun’s Path

If you have solar panels, you want soak up as much sunshine as you can to get your money’s worth. If you don’t have space for a lot of panels, the next best thing is repositioning the panels to catch the most rays. For his entry into the Hackaday Prize, [Frank] built a gorgeous solar tracker prototype to both validate his theories and to serve as a learning platform.

A solar tracker’s purpose is — you guessed it — tracking the Sun’s location to determine optimal positioning for solar panels and other sun-seeking payloads. In the latest revision, [Frank]’s tracker follows the Sun’s azimuth angle, aka its horizontal movement.

The Sun’s path is represented along a ring of 32 red/green LEDs. It moves around the ring as a green LED, according to a real-time clock and a set of pre-determined solar positions stored on an SD card.

Two red LEDs show the sunrise and sunset azimuth angles, and a third LED indicates North as detected with a magnetometer and adjusted for local magnetic declination. In the center of the ring, a stepper motor drives an arrow that always points at the Sun LED. As the tracker is moved around, all the LEDs shift around the ring to follow their targets.

Though it already shines, we think this ongoing project has a bright future. Be sure to check out the demo video after the break.

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Big Power, Little Power, Tiny Power, Zap!

Our Hackaday Prize Challenges are evaluated by a panel of judges who examine every entry to see how they fare against judging criteria. With prize money at stake, it makes sense we want to make sure it is done right. But we also have our Hackaday Prize achievements, with less at stake leading to a more free-wheeling way to recognize projects that catch our eye. Most of the achievements center around fun topics that aren’t related to any particular challenge, but it’s a little different for the Infinite Improbability achievement. This achievement was unlocked by any project that impressed with their quest for power, leading to some overlap with the just-concluded Power Harvesting Challenge. In fact, when the twenty Power Harvesting winners were announced, we saw that fourteen of them had already unlocked the achievement.

Each of the Power Harvesting winners will get their own spotlight story. And since many of them have unlocked this achievement, now is the perfect time to take a quick tour through a few of the other entries that have also unlocked the Infinite Improbability achievement.

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2-Axis Solar Tracker Always Gets A Tan

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Let’s face it — solar panels still aren’t that efficient. So why not pump as much juice out of them as possible? Building a 2-axis solar tracking unit can increase daily power output by around 30%!

[Jay Doscher] had his power go out back in 2011, and even though it was only for 12 hours, they realized how ill-prepared they were to deal with a power outage. Food was spoiled, flashlights were dead, candles were sparse… they needed to be prepared better for the next time this happened. This spawned one of [Jay’s] longest running projects on his blog Polyideas.

His goal was to build a fully automated solar tracking unit that could be setup anywhere, and automatically track the sun to ensure optimum ray catching. It makes use of a 12V gear reduced motor to provide panning, and a linear actuator with positional tracking to control the tilt. To track the sun he’s got a digital compass and an Adafruit Ultimate GPS breakout board. To control it all he’s using is an Arduino UNO, but he has been through multiple iterations including his first with a BeagleBone. It’s a very slick and well engineered system and [Jay’s] hoping to spread it around the world — the entire thing is open source. What a guy!

It’s not quite complete yet, but he’s got an amazing build log and a GitHub repository  filled with info — plus the following video showing it off in its current state!

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