It probably goes without saying that solar panels need to be pointed at the sun for optimal performance. The tricky bit is that the sun has a funny habit of moving on you. For those with a solar panel on their balcony or garden, mysoltrk tracks the sun to get the most out of a small solar panel.
[Fulvio] built the tracker to be solid, low cost, and sturdy enough to survive outdoors, which is quite a tall order. Low cost meant WiFi and GPS were out. The first challenge was low-cost linear actuators that were 3D printed with a mechanism to lock the shaft. An N20 6 volt 30 RPM geared motor formed the heart of the actuator. Four photo-resistors inside a printed viewfinder detect where the sun is, allowing the system to steer the array to get equal values on all the sensors. An Arduino Nano was chosen as it was low power, low cost, and easy to modify. A L298N h-bridge drives the motors, and a shunt is used instead of limit switches to reduce costs further.
There are a few other clever tricks. A voltage divider reads the power coming off the panel so the circuit doesn’t brown out trying to move the actuators. The load can also be switched off via an IRL540n. As of the time of writing, only the earlier versions of the code are up on GitHub, as [Fulvio] is still working on refining the tracking algorithm. But the actuators work wonderfully. We love the ingenuity and focus on low cost, which probably explains why mysoltrk was selected as a finalist in the 2023 Hackaday Prize Green Hacks challenge.
Continue reading “2023 Hackaday Prize: A Reinvented Solar Tracker”
If you need to squeeze every available watt out of a solar panel, you’ll probably want to look into a solar tracking system. Unfortunately, they are usually quite large, heavy, and expensive. As an alternative, [JP Gleyzes] has put together a DIY solar tracking system that aims to address these issues.
Starting with a 100 W flexible solar panel purchased during a Black Friday sale, [JP] first created a simple frame using 20 mm PVC tubing and a few 3D printed brackets. It mounts on a wooden base with a printed worm gear rotation mechanism, powered by a stepper motor. The tilt is a handled by a lead screw made from a threaded rod, connected between the wooden base and the top of the solar panel, and is also driven by a stepper motor.
For even more efficiency, [JP] also created an MPPT charge controller with companion app using an ESP32, modified 20 A buck converter, and current sensor module. The ESP32 also controls the stepper motors. The optimum angle for the solar panel determined using the date, time, and the system’s GPS position. [JP] had also created a simple Android app to calibrate the panels’ start position.
This project is a finalist in the Planet-Friendly Power challenge of the 2022 Hackaday Prize, and all the details to build your own are available on your project page. Looking at the size of the system, we suspect future iterations could be even smaller.
Continue reading “Hackaday Prize 2022: Compact Solar Tracking System Doesn’t Break The Bank”
There are a huge number of ways to track the sun if you have some reason to do so. You can use time-based algorithms, or feed in coordinates from the Internet, or you could do it with minimal parts and no electronic processing at all. The latter is how this project from [3D Printer Academy] works.
One key thing about this project is that you shouldn’t be fooled by the solar panels. They’re not here to generate power for external use. Instead, they’re wired up in opposing polarities to a DC gear motor. The motor turns the panel assembly. As one panel is hit by the sun, it turns the assembly to bring the other panel into the sun as well simply by applying a DC voltage to the motor. The other panel is wired up the opposite way, so if it is in the sun, it brings the other panel into alignment as well.
This serves as a very simple planar solar tracker. If you want to track the sun with minimal parts, this is a very easy way to do it. You’ll just need to put whatever you want to actually aim at the sun on top of the assembly. if that happens to be a larger solar panel, it may be cumbersome and another more complex design may be more suitable.
It’s an ingenious and easy way of tracking the sun, even if it’s not immediately apparent how the device would be useful in its current form. If you’ve got an idea how you would use such a mechanism, let us know in the comments.
We’ve seen other solar tracker projects before, too. Video after the break.
Continue reading “A Simple Sun Tracker With Very Few Parts”
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.
Continue reading “Suntracker Optimizes Solar Panels While Visualizing Sun’s Path”
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.
Continue reading “Big Power, Little Power, Tiny Power, Zap!”
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!
Continue reading “2-Axis Solar Tracker Always Gets A Tan”