Instructables
Picture of Solar Shrub
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I'm a solar energy advocate, tinkerer, and enthusiast, but let's face it; solar panels are ugly!

Flat, rectangular panels can only be arranged in so many ways and always look industrial, boring, and out of place. So I decided to build a functional, but more aesthetically pleasing version of a USB solar charger.

I call my creation the "Solar Shrub". It's designed to resemble a round-leafed plant in a flower pot, but unlike a real plant, this one can charge my iPod, iPhone, and any other USB chargeable device!

I used eight 1.5 Volt round solar cells (leaves) attached to shrink-wrapped wires and clothes hangers (stems) to create an array capable of producing 5 Volts at about 300mA. I wired two sets of four cells in series (to get the voltage) and then wired the two arrays together in parallel (to get the current). I stabilized the power by building a 5 Volt Regulator circuit, then added an on/off switch, power LED, and female USB connector.

Now you can build one too! Just follow these instructions, then put it in sunlight, flip the toggle switch, and plug in your favorite USB device!
 
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Step 1: Materials and Tools Used

Picture of Materials and Tools Used
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Materials for Power Circuit:

1 - 7805 Voltage Regulator (Radio Shack #276-1770)
1 - Heat sink for the 7805 (Radio Shack #276-1368)
1 - Hea sink mounting hardware(Radio Shack #276-1373)
1 - Red LED(Radio Shack #276-041)
1 - SPST mini toggle switch(Radio Shack #275-0324)
1 - 22uf capacitor(Radio Shack #272-1026)
1 - .01uf capacitor(Radio Shack #272-1065)
1 - 220 ohm resistor(Radio Shack #271-1313)
1 - 4.7k ohm resistor(Radio Shack #271-1124)
1 - 3.3k ohm resistor(Radio Shack #271-1122)
1 - USB extension cable (Male to Female)
1 - Blocking Diode (1N4001)(Radio Shack #276-1101)
1 - Round Proto Board (Radio Shack #276-004)

Materials for Leaves and Stems:

8 - Round solar cells (hacked from solar garden lights) (Lowe's #379421)
8 - Wire clothes hangers
1 - Roll each of red and black 22 AWG wire (Radio Shack #278-1224)
2 - Pkgs of assorted shrink wrap (Radio Shack #278-1610)
10 - Small wire ties
1 -  Can green spray paint

Misc Materials:

1 - 6" Clay Plastic Self-Watering flower pot (Lowe's #285869)
2 - Metal angle brackets
1 - CD
2 - Plastic standoffs(Radio Shack #276-1381)

Tools:

Soldering Iron
Solder
Wire strippers
Side cutters
Dremel
LelandG11 days ago

Would you be able to add a battery, so that it could charge the battery and then plug the device in to charge later when the sun goes down? I'm thinking this would be great for camping, you could put it out next to your tent or whatever and let it charge the battery, then charge your phone later when the sun goes down.

mikesoniat (author)  LelandG10 days ago

Yes, that's exactly what I did (and more) in my Solar Shrub II. Check it out

http://www.instructables.com/id/Solar-Shrub-II/

GanzC25 days ago

- power supply : should be 5V+ (7805 dropout voltage), so minimum 7.5V

- LED1: wrong polarisation

- R1: it should be calculated using voltage of power supply , so decide what you want to connect (BTW - LED1 it's a waste of energy!)

- 7805 with heatsink? Do You want to boil wather or charge iPhone ? To Low efficiency, use LDO stabilizer or step down dc/dc converter.

tushar095 months ago
ahalya7 months ago

I need one. How much will it cost if I ask you to make one for me

Wolfbane2219 months ago
Im trying to make a multiple usb charger station with 5v2a outputs on each one.. is there a circuit I could replicate for each? Power would come from a wall outlet
Jobo171 year ago
dude, i looked it up and the circuit alone was over $30
mikesoniat (author)  Jobo171 year ago
Well, I had most of the standard components laying around; caps, resistors, diodes, LEDs. Some were certainly purchased in bulk. I just referenced the Radio Shack numbers to specify the right part.
geewizard1 year ago
Great project! I built it according to what you had except i can not get a steady 2V out. When i try to charge a device it charges for a split second then turns off then turns on again and so on. Any suggestions? I tried to add another cap to keep that voltage up but with no success.
mikesoniat (author)  geewizard1 year ago
This original version of the Solar Shrub had the limitation that it only charges when in direct sunlight. It's also important that the cells are wired in the correct configuration to give you more than 5 volts. Otherwise, the regulator cannot produce a steady output.

For a more robust design, please take a look at the Solar Shrub II (my second attempt) [http://www.instructables.com/id/Solar-Shrub-II/] it has more power and an internal lithium battery. So it can store a charge and be used with little or no sunlight. Cheers!
I love this!I have seen a few usb chargers and made a few. I love the personal touches made to this. very unique!
mikesoniat (author)  out-of-the-box1 year ago
Thanks! Have you checked out my latest one? I've improved my original design quite a bit. Here's a link to Solar Shrub II http://www.instructables.com/id/Solar-Shrub-II/
Very nice! Did you ever consider throwing in a super capacitor into the mix in order to store up some charge or smooth out the power flow?
mikesoniat (author)  JoshuaZimmerman2 years ago
Thanks, Joshua! Can you elaborate on that idea? I'm always interested in improving my gadgets.
No problem. As solar power is not 100% constant it helps to have some sort of storage in the mix to smooth out the incoming power flow. Or, if for nothing else, a random cloud comes by.

More or less you could add about 6V worth of super capacitor after the 5V regulator (you always want more cap than you'll need). The super caps wouldn't store an insane amount of power, but enough to keep things moving smoothly.

Or add a bunch of AAA rechargeable (5 or 6 of them actually) before the 5V regulator.

Send me a PM. I received a whole bunch of random super caps as samples awhile back and they're just taking up space. I'd be happy to send you a couple for this project.
You should enter this in the Hurricane Lasers Contest! http://www.instructables.com/contest/hurricanelasers/
mikesoniat (author)  SelkeyMoonbeam2 years ago
Thanks for the heads up Moon Beam!
MacOSJoey2 years ago
Very cool and astethically appealing! One question: Is it waterproof? Could I leave it outside like a regular plant, or will any water fry the circuits?
mikesoniat (author)  MacOSJoey2 years ago
Thanks for your comment! I don't think it's weatherproof, but it could be pretty easily. Since the electronics are hidden beneath the CD, I think if you put some silicon sealer around it and in the center, it should be able to withstand a bit of weather.

If you like it, please vote for me in the Green Tech Contest!
The spray-on plastic dip you can get at Home Depot could waterproof the components even if water got in the pot.
mikesoniat (author)  Dapper Hippo2 years ago
I'll have to give that a look. Thanks!
vincent75202 years ago
where do I cast my vote ??
mikesoniat (author)  vincent75202 years ago
Hi Vincent, you can vote from the Green Tech Contest "Entries" screen. Here's link: http://www.instructables.com/contest/greentech2012/?show=ENTRIES

Thanks!
Done !…
Glad I did it too : you made my day !…
mikesoniat (author)  vincent75202 years ago
Thanks for your vote!
ChrysN2 years ago
Great job, that looks really cool.
mikesoniat (author)  ChrysN2 years ago
Thanks! Please vote for me in the Green Tech Contest!
Voted!
mikesoniat (author)  ChrysN2 years ago
Awesome, Chrys! Thank you!