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Solar Tracker in the Internet Cloud

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This is a Solar Tracker. A full size, internet cloud connected, smartphone accessible Solar Tracker built mainly from 2x4s and plywood, employing wooden peg gears, recycled curtain poles, nuts, bolts and threaded rod. The solar tracker uses a home built electronic controller incorporating WiFi, stepper motor drives, accelerometer and magnetometer. The tracker was designed to drive a full size 90W panel in azimuth and elevation. The gears driving the tracker are wooden peg gears commonly used in the 16th century. The gears  were designed using modern 3D CAD (Solidworks). Connecting the wooden peg gears to the internet cloud just seemed like the right thing to do. This is not a waterproof design – you will need to consider modifications to waterproof your derivative design.

The project includes mechanical mechanisms, web application, free/green solar energy, firmware, basic electronics, a microcontroller, accelerometer/ magnetometer, the Internet of Things, WiFi, 3D Modeling, CNC machining, re-use and basic woodworking. The Internet Of Things was enabled by the innovative Electric Imp - http://www.electricimp.com

The project started with a need to automate the irrigation of our raised vegetable garden. The purpose of the vegetable garden is to reclaim some semblance of self reliance on the veggi front. Adding a solar panel allows the vegetable garden to water itself in a self-reliant way. Adding a rain barrel collection system as a water source ramps the self-reliance up further and is an environmentally sound thing to do. 90W is certainly way more power than we need, but I’m sure over time I will find more things to connect. The rain collection system is documented in another Instructable http://www.instructables.com/id/Recycle-Pallet-Rain-Barrel-Stand/. A future instructable will document the irrigation system as time permits.

The need for solar tracking is well documented in the available internet literature and scientific journals so there is no need for me to repeat it here. There are many arguments for and against, but efficiency gains of up to 30% versus static installation make solar tracking attractive. You just need to make sure that your motive power needs are much less than the potential efficiency gain. The additional cost of a tracking solution is added to the overall cost of a solar system which increases the time to a positive ROI. But tracking does not need to be expensive – at least not for the home hobbyist with a small number of solar panels. The tracking accuracy requirements are not that high either. Using a micro-controller to control the tracking made it easy to control the tracking power losses by having the system operate in a low power mode for as long as possible, with only an occasional high power spurt to turn the motors a small amount. There are other ways to do solar tracking (optical sensors connected to simple circuits for example - "light followers"), but microcontrollers create opportunities for feature creep and you will learned a whole lot too.  And learning is key.

Here's a short video to show the completed project in action:





Let's get started shall we?

 
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siqinie7 months ago
hi,can you please give a link of stepmotor ,there are so many of it ,i afraid of geting a wrong one,thank you.
MidnightMaker (author)  siqinie7 months ago
I used a Nema 23 Frame size bipolar stepper motor that has 256 oz.in of torque and 200 steps/revolution. Here are some links to motors that will work for this. THe exact motor was Vexta PK268-02A

http://www.ebay.com/itm/VEXTA-PK268-02A-Stepper-Motor-2-Total-/271251265793?pt=LH_DefaultDomain_0&hash=item3f27d5d901

http://www.ebay.com/itm/1-PC-NEMA-23-CNC-Step-Stepping-Stepper-Motor-76mm-3-0A-255oz-in-Bipolar-/121051254845

http://www.automationdirect.com/adc/Shopping/Catalog/Motion_Control/Stepper_Systems/Stepper_Motors_-z-_Cables/STP-MTR-23079

i really like you project,it is so cool, and i tried to make one by myself,but i just lack tools and there are some problems i can not solve, so i want to ask is that possible to buy this from you,because i remember you said you might make a new one.

MidnightMaker (author)  siqinie1 month ago

Hi siqinie, shipping something like this is very difficult, and expensive. You can PM me directly if you want to discuss this further

thank you for your valuable advise,i am a chinese studying in manila,if in the future i can help ,maybe you can opt to contact me.
jmpm46192 months ago
Where is the best source to reach you?
MidnightMaker (author)  jmpm46192 months ago

Hi, I sent you my email address. Check your PM inbox under your instructables profile.

jmpm46192 months ago
How can I reach you?
jmpm46192 months ago
Yeah your right. Electric imp looks smaller. I think I'll opt for the electric imp. I am currently for a circuit designer. Are you available to help or if you could please direct me to someone who can.

I am interested in making a smart device for home automation.
MidnightMaker (author)  jmpm46192 months ago
Sure, I can help. Send me a PM with what you have in mind.
jmpm46192 months ago
I have found this device hopefully it is something to take into consideration. Let me know what you think.

https://www.kickstarter.com/projects/1085386850/my-n3rd-connect-and-control-anything-from-anywhere/description
MidnightMaker (author)  jmpm46192 months ago

It looks like a good device. But, it is larger than the Electric Imp, and I thought you were looking for something smaller.

jmpm46192 months ago
Is there one that is a bit more compact. I notice that a lot of these small smart appliances are using something that is much smaller. Any suggestions?
MidnightMaker (author)  jmpm46192 months ago

None that I know of. The two main competing products in this space are the Spark Core and the Electric Imp. They are similar in size. There is rumor that electric imp is working on a device that is 10% of the current size but the release timelines are not public as far as I can see. There are a lot of companies that make WiFi modules, but none of them provide a complete platform the way that Spark and Electric Imp are providing. The benefit you get is that you can run your code directly on the module - you don't need an additional microcontroller for most things. There are tiny USB WiFi modules available, but these will require drivers and an external microcontroller (raspberry pi) for example to be useful. If size is a gating factor for your solution, you are going to have difficulty finding something - let me know if you do as it will help me as well.

jmpm46192 months ago
Which component do you use to connect and let you control via app?
MidnightMaker (author)  jmpm46192 months ago
It's an electric imp.
www.electricimp.com
evgen_ru7 months ago
I am sorry... but... Why internet? Only 4-photoresistors + cross-separator + AVR-controller :)
srai68 months ago
Solar tracker..ummm.. interesting stuff indeed. Being into a small sized organization, I had always had good guts for time management software and therefore had been using the one offered by Replicon Inc.Never had an idea about this stuff...really nice write up! Thanks.
mushroom glue10 months ago
Nice project, but does it need to be this complex? couldn't you just use one of the simple BEAM light-seeking head circuits, and get the same effect?
MidnightMaker (author)  mushroom glue10 months ago
Thanks for your comment. I did mention this in step 2.
zawy MidnightMaker10 months ago
You could have also placed it on an axis that points to the north star and then have a manual tilt adjustment off that axis that you change once every 2 or 3 weeks as the season changes. Then you rotate it with just one motor based simply on time, 15 degrees per hour. Or use a simple sun light tracker with 8 parts: 2 sets of 3 wide-angle LED's in series as a miniature "solar cell" (LEDs can generate electricity from light) and use the difference in voltage to turn on 1 of 2 mosfet transistors to turn a DC motor forwards or backwards. Or if you want 2 axis based on sun position, the math is a LOT simpler if you start with a polar axis. Just use the simple Wikipedia Sun declination equation for the tilt off the polar axis and 15 degrees per hour for the other axis. Eventually I'll do one of these instructables to show how I used $20 of aluminized mylar covering four $12 4x8 insulation boards to reflect sunlight into 2 north-side bay windows to heat 3,000 sq feet from 9 am until 9 pm (heat retention in the house, dropping from 77 F to 70 F by 9 pm). 10 kW of sun energy (20% loss from double pane windows) for about $200 total, 50 to 100 times cheaper than solar cells. Saved $500 last year with an oak tree blocking half the light. My support structure and axii were 4 door hinges on 2x4s. The LED's powering the mosfets are placed on the edges of the window. Reflecting sunlight into a window ("heliostat") has math that is a lot more complicated than sun tracking because you track half way between the target window and the sun.
MidnightMaker (author)  zawy10 months ago
Thanks for your input. I look forward to instructable. I really wanted to see what it would take mash centuries old gear tech with modern iPhone control and monitoring, and achieve a practical result. Someone has suggested that I remove the steppers in favor of water wheels to turn the gears. Gen 2!!!!
I did an instructable on my heliostat ideas and I'm thinking about using your method of gearing. See my user page, or rather  http://www.instructables.com/id/Heliostat-for-heating/
MidnightMaker (author)  zawy9 months ago
Nice project zawy and a real cost benefit. Thanks for sharing
that would be really lovely +_+
Ah. Sorry. I missed that. Sometimes Overkill is good for a laugh.
MidnightMaker (author)  mushroom glue10 months ago
And I learned plenty!
Ah. Sorry. I missed that. Sometimes Overkill is good for a laugh.
siqinie9 months ago
hi,i admire you project very much,and want to have one of my own. the problem is i lack of equipment to make the wooden part, can you sent me the whole wooden parts, i will pay you twice the price plus the shipment fee. thank you,i am looking forward to see you reply!by the way if in the future you want to visit asia ,maybe i can be your guide!hehe!
MidnightMaker (author)  siqinie9 months ago
Thanks for the offer to be my tour guide!
Unfortunately I do not have the time to make the parts for you. It is very labor intensive!
Thanks fo your reply
AnAnalyst9 months ago
Why did you choose your particular gear design? They look a bit complicated. Have you considered what would happen if it was really windy out?

MidnightMaker (author)  AnAnalyst9 months ago
I liked the look of them. Peg gears are some of the oldest gears known and were routinely used in water, wind and animal powered devices. DaVinci's drawings are a good example. If you are concerned about wind, just add a solenoid to lock the gear.
nmdemarco9 months ago
Besides the great topic and elegant execution, the documentation is tremendous. Nice photos and captivating writing make this one of the best instructables I've read.
MidnightMaker (author)  nmdemarco9 months ago
Thanks, I appreciate the comments
m2mot10 months ago
There is a great deal of thought and skill that went into this Solar Tracker.In fact I would call it a piece of art .Regrettably it would not not stand up to the British weather so I would have to choose a different material other than wood apart from that its a very good concept ,I take my hat of to you MidnightMaker.
mainah m2mot9 months ago
There is a product called "Ecowood" that is sold by home depot online for pickup at the nearest store. The "Grow Your Greens Guy" said it was advertised to be a 1 application preservative and is non-toxic. I bought some and am going to use it on raised beds. Next year I will have the soil tested and see if anything leached. Probably wold be a great thing for the wooden parts. ;-)
MidnightMaker (author)  m2mot10 months ago
I have a more robust weather proof design in the works. Given all the projects competing for my attention it's unlikely to be done this year. It Is a more traditional pan tilt mechanism using 21st century mechanics at low cost
gaiatechnician10 months ago
Hi, I think you did great. I did much simpler projects and was accused of being Rube Goldberg gone crazy. Please check out my pallet gardening project for ways of watering your garden. I have a "tcmtech dripper irrigation" project that you can DIY to work with whatever you have. Also, airlift in a bucket means that you can generate 1 psi air, pipe the air anywhere and use it to pump water. This can even be the motive force for your solar tracker if you have enough time to play with it. I did solar tracker on equatorial mount with a "dripper tracker" but the changes in centre of gravity was a killer. It could work to power and move your system too. No cogs!
(if ever you want to do it simpler). Thanks, Brian Pallet garden is at http://www.youtube.com/playlist?list=PL00C41C26C91A76BB and it includes another way to break up pallets. It is a little better for breaking the really hard pallets because the force is more evenly levered across the width of the boards.
MidnightMaker (author)  gaiatechnician10 months ago
Some really interesting stuff on your YouTube channel. Thanks for the link
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