Introduction: Low-Cost Adjustable IoT Project Solar Panel Mount
If you have electronics or IoT projects powered with a small solar panel you may be challenged to find inexpensive and easy to adjust mounts to hold the panel in the correct orientation. In this project I will show you a simple way to create a completely adjustable mount that is inexpensive, uses readily available parts and is simple to build.
Typically, I am solar-powering a remote sensor platform that runs on 5v. The platform consists of integration board with a 6-30v regulated step-down power supply, an Adafruit M0 development board, and a LiPo battery, a IoT LTE-M1 modem and some remote sensors.
If your power needs are substantial, look at Jason Poel Smith’s Instructable, which also uses photographic parts in a whole new way. https://www.instructables.com/id/Solar-Panel-Trip...
Since the goal of this project is evaluating solar panel options, we have substituted WiFi for cellular communications for the power metrics we are monitoring. Our sensors are voltage dividers and the analog GPIO for the Feather board.
- Solar Panel
- (1) 1/4-20 T-Nut
- (1) 1/4 Hex Nut (stainless if you prefer)
- Min/Micro Ball Head
- Glue (epoxy or silicone)
This method of solar panel mounting is limited to small, single use solar panels of up to maybe 12” x 12”. If you build this, post a comment to let everyone know the size of your project’s panel and how things worked out. The pictures included here include a 4” x 5.5” solar panel we are testing for future use with our products.
The core of our mount is an inexpensive photo ball head, the type that is readily available on-line. A key consideration: the hole and thread on the bottom of the ball head. You will find both 1/4-20 and 3/8-16 thread ball head mounts, professional tripods typically have a 3/8-16 bolt sticking up for the head to attach; while selfie-sticks and smartphone mounts typically use 1/4-20 threads. So, check before you purchase. I find it simpler to just always use 1/4-20 hardware, which is also seemingly easier to purchase.
I used 2-part epoxy to attach the solar-panel. I only use the solar-panels for this and similar uses, so permanently mounting the T-Nut to solar panel is not a problem. If you want to separate the nut from the panel at some point in the future, consider a silicone caulk type adhesive (we use GE Silicone II because it is neutral-cure). With silicone adhesive, you should be able to use a razor blade to carefully separate your parts. Putting It Together To get an accelerated look at the process watch the video and you will be all set.
Step 1: Modify the T-Nut
We are starting out by “flattening” the T-Nut we are going to use. While this is not essential for the build, it provides more surface for the glue to contact and it minimizes contact with the pointy parts of the T-Nut. To do this simply hold the T-Nut with a pair of pliers, then with a 2nd set of pliers bend down each of the T-Nut's prongs until it is roughly flat.
Alternately, you could cut off the prongs, but bending them flat is much easier and provides additional surface and angles for the glue to attach to.
Step 2: Glue the "modified" T-Nut to Your Solar Panel
As I already mentioned, I am using epoxy to attach the T-Nut to the solar panel. So, after selecting the point on the back of the solar panel where I want to attach the mounting, I am mixing the glue. You want to pick a mounting point that gives clearance for the ball head, your project, and is somewhat close to the center of the panel.
Step 3: Assemble Your Solar Panel Mount
After allowing the glue to fully cure, we can assemble our mount.
- Start by removing the camera platform from the ball head bolt and replacing it with 1/4” nut.
- Insert the ball head bolt into the T-Nut on the solar panel. Screw that in until it is close to the back of the solar panel (leave 1/8” so you don’t put pressure on the panel with the mount).
- Now tighten the 1/4” nut against the T-Nut to act as a lock.
Step 4: Use It!
You can attach the ball head to any part of your project using a 1/4”-20 bolt. For my example here, I used an 1/2” bolt through the top of the case. Since it is difficult to find 1/4-20 bolts shorter than 1/2”, you can use a 2nd 1/4” to lock that assembly and limit the length of the bolt entering the ball head.