Introduction: Dual Axis Transistorized Solar Tracker

Picture of Dual Axis Transistorized Solar Tracker

This design uses 16 transistors, 8 per board, for the pan and tilt axes.

The frame is made from 25mm² aluminium tube joined with 90° Connect-It corner pieces and M6 threaded stainless steel rod is used to rotate both axes.

This design was intended to be portable and as such it is mounted on a small stand, easily erected during power cuts etc. Using radio control servos (JR NES-507) and a small ni-cad 600ma rechargeable battery allows approx 2~3 days runtime before the battery needs a recharge.

Step 1: The Electronics

Picture of The Electronics

The idea of using transistors to drive the motors was sourced at the Redrok energy site. I used the "LED5S5V Simplified LED low power tracker", its a long web page, use Ctrl + F in your browser to find the spot, or direct link here Led5S5V.

The max current using the suggested 2n2222 transistors is about 100ma, a bit on the small side for my intended motors and so I used some BD634's and 245's I harvested from an old telex machine. These are capable of 1A and will easily drive my RC servo's and small hobby motor.

I'm using rechargeable RC ni-cad batteries for the initial testing phase, but I imagine the LM7805 5V TO220 style voltage regulator would be able to drive both the pan and tilt axis from the panel itself.

I used a 5mm Clear Ultra Pure Green, 20° due to the high, 1.7V bandgap voltage. It is this voltage of the 2 leds back to back which is summed and the difference amplified by the 8 transistors which then feeds the motor, so a high as possible voltage is needed.

The bandgap voltage is easy enough to check, connect a meter to the led leads and point the led at the sun, the wide angle greens (120°) were a disappointing 0.45V.

The attached files were created using the free ExpressPCB software, comprising a basic schematic and my final pcb layout.

Some components are missing from my schematic so its best to work off the original at the Redrok site, led5s5v schematic

Step 2: The Tilt Axis

Picture of The Tilt Axis

Given that the maximum degree of movement for the tilt axis could be 90°, although it is a bit less in summer and a lot less in winter, I decided to use a short length of threaded rod for the drive mechanism.

I wanted both the motor mount and the shuttle mount to rotate to allow for the changing arc of the panel frame when swinging from vertical up to horizontal. The motor which rotates a M6 stainless steel threaded rod was positioned under the panel to keep it out of the rain, and was mounted on a hinge in order to rotate. The shuttle side through which the threaded rod travels, was mounted to a bearing and bolted to the frame.

The panel swings freely on 2 small hinges attached to the upright arms.

I used 25mm square tubing for the upright arms as well.

Hacksaw cuts on each corner allowed me to fold over the soft aluminium so that the hinges could be pop riveted.

Step 3: Tilt Axis Swiveling Shuttle

Picture of Tilt Axis Swiveling Shuttle

For this axis the threaded rod can be rotated for linear motion which means that the nut has to be somehow held captive, similar to a garage door opener, and rotate with the changing arc at the same time.

I squeezed a nut in each end of a section of 12mm ss tube (10mm inside dia) leaving a waist in the middle which holds both nuts captive when the threaded is screwed in.

Next a hard drive bearing (1360ZZ) was fitted into a copper pipe end cap with a ss hose clamp fastening the M6 nuts to the bearing assembly. This was topped off with a M6 machine screw through the bearing center and fastened to the frame upright.

Step 4: Tilt Axis Motor Drive

Picture of Tilt Axis Motor Drive

A rc servo mounted on a hinge is used to rotate a threaded rod, here is how I've done it.

  • A custom adapter is made from soldering a M6 Tee nut to a large washer.
  • A servo horn is bolted to the adapter plate, no the plastic horn isn't symmetrical but the flange centered well in the washer for marking the holes.
  • the small pcb is removed from inside the servo, the feedback pot must be left because its shaft is used for the main gear.
  • the motor is connected directly to the tracker board.
  • A hinge is aligned to the servo and frame and glued to the servo case.
  • M6 threaded rod is screwed into the Tee nut and cross drilled for a retaining clip.

Step 5: The Panning Axis

Picture of The Panning Axis

Alas we cannot use a simple straight rotating rod for this axis because we have more than 180° of rotation. Some pondering will also reveal that the straight rod will yield less than 180° travel and suffer from too much flex at full extension.

However we can rotate the nuts and keep the rod captive, to this end the threaded rod can be curved and mounted solidly to the central shaft.

  • Threaded rod curved using 3x 6203 bearings, 2 mounted on one vise jaw, 1 on the other and rod sawed back and forth while tightening the vise. (the bearing surface flattens the tops of the thread which can be cleaned up by chasing the threads with a M6 die.)
  • A fixed center shaft for mounting the rod circle.
  • A motorized shuttle driving the nuts anchored to the upright frame.

Geometry tripped me up, the center of the pan arc was different to the center of the shuttle travel arc. I originally didn't want to weaken the frame by drilling a hole in the center of the horizontal arm, so I offset the central shaft and clamped it to the outside of the revolving ss tube, seemed like a good idea at the time.

The new solution called for the central shaft to be centred and some pondering yielded a workable solution, pity I didn't think of it the first time around.

Anyhow, not exactly a train smash, the electronics were built in 2007 so I don't appear to work in a linear fashion. :)

Step 6: Panning Drive Motor Shuttle Assembly

Picture of Panning Drive Motor Shuttle Assembly

This assembly consists of a motor driving a worm gear which is loosely mounted on the aluminium square tube frame so as to be a sliding fit to accommodate any out of round of the threaded rod ring.

  • A bracket was made using a 180mm length of perforated Xbox chassis.
  • Bearing retainers in the form of 20mm copper pipe end caps were soldered to the bracket while it was straight.
  • 627ZZ bearings (22mm od 7mm id) were a press fit in the copper caps.
  • Another m6 tee nut was used, this time glued to a plastic gear, tee nut was filed to fit inside the bearing id, keeping the motor worm to gear clearance consistent.
  • A PET bottle was heat shrunk to provide a dust/rain cover for the motor/gear assembly.

Step 7: Final Tips and Tricks

Picture of Final Tips and Tricks

I use a wooden lollipop mounted perpendicularly on the panel as a visual indication of how well the tracking is going, initial adjustment of the leds is required to center the bead's shadow on the mount block.

Gusting winds are a problem requiring you to stake down the stand legs to prevent the panel from being blown over.

I have yet to see if the tilt drive rod interferes with the pan ring, guess I'll have to wait for midday on summer equinox which is 22nd December.

The center tube is a force fit in the tripod stand, which leaves me with the option of wall mounting at a later stage.

Comments

JaqwibzJ (author)2016-10-27

Awesome project. My classmate could definitely upgrade his one axis system with your help as shared here.
How I wish some of these components could easily be accessible here in Kenya. Even buying them online is a challenge as some sites don't offer shipping. Across continents.
Nevertheless, thanks for this big insight man!

Jaqwibz@gmail.com

loviettu (author)2015-03-16

LuisE1 (author)2015-02-14

Which is the amount of energy used by your tracker ?, If the amount of current is more than generated with the solar panels, is not worthy.

petercd (author)LuisE12015-02-15

Your question has been covered by my reply to schabanow's question near the bottom of the page

Ironwave (author)2015-01-08

And you are back making awesum stuff.
Nice and thank you for sharing. Hope to make one for myself too!

sahujittu844 (author)2015-01-03

amazing... .. if u have not any problem than can u send me circuit diagram of this project on my mail.......jittusahu10@gmail.com

redrok (author)2014-12-14

Hi petercd;

There are direct link to the LED5 section on my web page.

http://www.redrok.com/electron.htm#led5s5v

http://www.redrok.com/images/ledtilden5v.gif

http://www.redrok.com/electron.htm#led5s12v

http://www.redrok.com/images/ledtilden12v.gif

You can improve aiming accuracy with a shadow blocker such as this:

http://www.redrok.com/led3xassm.htm#rm

http://www.redrok.com/images/leddrmpp2.jpg

Ok this is for another tracker but you get the idea.

Have fun!

redrok

rsalimi (author)redrok2014-12-15

Hi Duane,

I tried to contact you but you haven't responded to any of my emails.

You see, I have already made a payment using Paypal for one of your solar
trackers about a month ago and you seem not at all interested in
replying to all of my emails right after I made the payment. I even
tried making a phone call using your phone number from your website but
it seems the number is no longer in service. You also didn't bother to contact me after I made a Paypal dispute since you leave me with no choice and I have to wait another month if you were not to contact me.

I'm sorry to bring this matter in such a way in someone else's Instructable but I have no choice and hope you read this and as a result have the obligation to send me a pm about the tracker that I have paid for. I have made the mount and installed the PV and everything else just waiting to install your tracker so you have to understand my frustration. I hope you pm me or email me directly because you know who I am from my handle name in here.

Thank you.

rsalimi (author)rsalimi2014-12-17

Wow, really? Why didn't you answer my emails and my pms? I guess there is no choice for me other than to escalate the transaction to a Paypal Claim then. Have a nice day...

petercd (author)redrok2014-12-14

Thanks kindly, didn't know whether you'd appreciate the direct linking or not.

So far theres no need for the shadow blocker but I did consider it.

redrok (author)petercd2014-12-14

You should have asked.
I always give permission, with suitable credit of course.

Have you looked at the "Tripod Tracking Mounts"? See:
http://www.redrok.com/electron.htm#tripod
http://www.redrok.com/electron.htm#pearson
These are the future of tracking mounts.
There is an interesting method to implement seasonal
tracking motion called a "Declinator".
http://www.redrok.com/electron.htm#declinator
See a model:
http://www.redrok.com/electron.htm#tripodmodel

These mount types are stronger in every way than
AZimuth/ALTitude mounts.

redrok
Duane C. Johnson

petercd (author)redrok2014-12-14

Very nice mounts I agree, Id ruled them out because my 2 options were wall mount and garden tripod, which both converged to the single center shaft.

However, if something should break, I'll be back for a redesign. :)

lumi3005 (author)2014-12-16

That's an awesome project. I like the apporach with descrete components and of course the motor cover :-)

The motor and that plastic gear looks really fragile, can you confirm that it will last at least a couple of months?

petercd (author)lumi30052014-12-16

Thanks, the gear does look flimsy but it will only be seeing intermittent action, I only take the panel out when needed, so its not grinding away every day.

I gave it some silicon grease and the cover in the hopes that it will extend its lifespan. The worm isn't too stressed in its present configuration seeing as its just driving the tee nut, so I expect it to last a year at least.

lumi3005 (author)petercd2014-12-17

Well, for a short time use it's ok and for the project purpose acceptable :-)

puggirl415 (author)2014-12-14

I came here to look at this but I can't really say I know what it does or what it is for. I guess I'll go to google now and ask what a solar tracker is. Thanks

ftardiff (author)puggirl4152014-12-16

It is used to increase a solarpanels efficiancy, 1 panel on a sun tracker can produce the same amount of energy as 6-8 stationary panels just sittingon your roof. Hope this helps ?

puggirl415 (author)ftardiff2014-12-16

Thanks ftardiff for your kind words. I am trying to understand solar and build a super efficient solar array. That's why I clicked on this ible to see what a Solar tracker does and how it might fit into my project. I'll continue learning about it off of this ible. There may be another similar project I can understand better.

ftardiff (author)puggirl4152014-12-16

Sorry to see some are being so condescending to you

petercd (author)puggirl4152014-12-15

Which part was giving you having trouble?

Solar panel=generate dc voltage from sun

solar=sun

track=follow

puggirl415 (author)petercd2014-12-15

So if I understand you this is a solar array that tracks the angle of the sun for maximum exposure to the panels? I'm not an engineer or even a builder of stuff. (well a few things but not a lot) so not sure if this ible is something that would be good to add to my solar array project.

Solar = sun

track = follow

People who understand the English language would get these 2 words but
in context those two words don't explain what you need or would use this
solar tracker for.

Solar panel - oh there is one? That wasn't clear at first glance. My recommendation is to take into account the skill level and engineering language skill level of beginning builders on here and simply write a laymans introduction to your ible. Thanks for mocking me. No vote.

1eugim (author)puggirl4152014-12-15

Pugggirl, I can't tell if you're trolling or just clueless. I am not a native english speaker, and I know what "Sun Tracker" means. Even a simple websearch with the words "Sun Tracker" will bring up a nice wikipedia article on sun trackers. I wonder if you also find the worlds "solar panel" confusing.

schabanow (author)2014-12-14

What about simple warm gear istead of bended threaded rod? You can make it as well with vise jaw, tap and a pair of wheels made out from (i.e.) recycled HDPE (check YouTube with search "recycled HDPE).

petercd (author)schabanow2014-12-14

Thought about it, but Id have needed a M8 or bigger shaft (deeper thread) to stop the panel from rotating in wind and stripping the gear.
Then the problem became a question of how to rotate the M6 or M10 worm with a RC servo, no light bulbs flashed so I went the spinning nuts route.

schabanow (author)petercd2014-12-14

Got it, OK.

How much of current does your system consumpt when it runs? Does servos rotate constantly (I mean a large number of tiny steps during the day) or by visible steps of limited number (i.e. 30 or 50 tracking cycles per day long)?

schabanow (author)schabanow2014-12-14

I mean did you try to run your system in self-suffiency (solar powered) mode?

petercd (author)schabanow2014-12-15

No not yet.

The rc servo motor uses 40ma with no load and 160 at max load. The panning motor uses 600ma under load. I haven't yet captured the current draw during a twitch, but I figure on about 70~ 90ma.

The tilt motor (rc servo) does one full rotation in 1min 55seconds, in that time it does 41 twitches of which 4 are big twitches, 1 big twitch is approx=3 of the smaller twitches in a row.

I haven't yet studied the panning stage at this time.

Bowtie41 (author)2014-12-14

Nice,I'm wondering/thinking about if it could be used to keep a fresnel lens for heating/burning in peak alignment?

petercd (author)Bowtie412014-12-14

Absolutely, wonder no more. :)

macglobalus (author)2014-12-14

ARE THE files you include autocad or eagle ?/ cant seem to open them with eagle

petercd (author)macglobalus2014-12-14

No lad, they're Expresspcb, I included the link to the software in step1. :)

macglobalus (author)petercd2014-12-14

thanks mate !!

simonrafferty (author)2014-12-14

Impressive for something built without any welding, 3D Printing or machining - i.e. something anybody can make in their back yard!

petercd (author)simonrafferty2014-12-14

Actually I did some welding, the central M10 shaft bolt to the cap plate and the cap plate to the main rectangle tube, but other than that, simple, no arduino 3Dp cnc etc.

dreiduke (author)2014-12-14

i like that solution with these Lollipop

schabanow (author)2014-12-14

Hi guys. I did a thing of just similar circuitry. Inverted pendulum toy has been worked out. )). Below is the video.

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=A-oGK8xjva0&list=UU_H9Zoz21ovmQU9Aa7U6xHQ&index=18

crickleymal (author)2014-12-11

Any chance of a schematic that we can read without special software? Unless I'mm missing something as the company doesn't allow me to see all pictures posted

petercd (author)crickleymal2014-12-12

I used schematics from the Redrok site, so cannot repost them in my 'ible, hence the links.

http://www.redrok.com/electron.htm

http://www.redrok.com/images/ledtilden12v.gif is the 12v version, there is a 5v version too, has different resistor values.

macktrotter (author)2014-12-11

How much did this cost? Awesome btw!

petercd (author)macktrotter2014-12-11

These things are hard to total up due to my non linear way of working, rc components were from 2002, the electronics from 2007 and the rest was surplus from other projects from 2013.

The only things bought in this project month were the 8 connect-it corners@R80, 3m 25mm² tube @R85 and the 1m M6 threaded rod @R36 and bearings.

On the bearings side of things, the tilt swivel 1360zz were from a hard drive, the center shaft 6000zz from a project in 2003, the 2 6203's were old front axle bearings that were replaced on my Enfield Bullet, the 3rd one I had to buy which was R46.

I originally bought 2x1560zz for the panning shuttle @R72, then had a redesign and bought 627zz @R86.

Finally there's location, meaning if you don't live in Cape Town your prices will differ.

Tecwyn Twmffat (author)2014-12-11

I like the rolled threaded bar idea - never thought of that!

petercd (author)Tecwyn Twmffat2014-12-11

Thanks, got some ideas for making it from this 'ible.

https://www.instructables.com/id/Evolution-of-a-ring-bender-ring-roller-machine/

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