Adjustable Solar Panel Mount

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About: Avid hobbyist and Handyman

Intro: Adjustable Solar Panel Mount

While researching the solar power off-grid system for my Shed-cave, one of the things that captured my attention was the angle or tilt of the solar panel. I wanted to know why they had to be tilted (Curious George) and what was the correct angle of tilt. I quickly discovered that while being flat 0° the panels will still produce electricity. However, mounting the panels with a tilt increases the electricity produced because of the angle in which the sun rays hit the panel.

PLEASE NOTE: The orientation of the panel is very important. A tilted panel faced in the wrong direction will not produce the energy required. If you are in the northern hemisphere, panels need to face true south, not magnetic south. If in the southern, panels need to face true north (not magnetic north). Panels are to placed were little to no shading can occur.

I also discovered that you can have fix tilt; adjustable tilt; or a solar tracker mount. The solar tracker is the most efficient of all. It tracks the sun's movement across the sky capturing almost 100% of the sun's energy (Oh Yeah!). This, of course, is the most expensive $$$ of all to set up and to maintain (Oh No!).

Which leaves me with the fixed tilt or adjustable tilt.To be honest, all the information gleaned give the adjustable just a slight edge (around 4-6%) over the fixed.

Step 1: Materials

So why build an adjustable mount? The premanufactured ones cost too much or is it because it is more challenging and fun to build one. Maybe because every little energy I can get counts so I can to stay a little later in Shed-cave. Could it be just for bragging rights (just to say I built one)? Whatever my motivation was (duh) it was settled. The panel had to be mounted on an adjustable mount.

Materials Under $100

  • 1. 1 Set of roof mounting Z-bracket ($8.99)
  • 4. 2X4x8 pressure treated ($13.88)
  • 1. 4x4x8 pressure treated post ($8.98)
  • 1. Carriage bolt with washers and nut (galvanized). ($4.04)
  • 1, Galvanized heavy duty hinge $7.97)
  • 3. Bags of concrete mix (I used a combination of fast-setting and regular 60lbs). ($11.44)
  • 2. Galvanized corner brace ($6.36)

Some gravel; exterior screws (1.25; 2.5 and 3.5 inches), and strips of wood to plumb post and set concrete ($30).

I had some of the materials already so my cost was around $50.

Step 2: Tools Needed

  1. A post hole digger (powered or manual) and spade
  2. Circular saw or hand saw
  3. A regular drill (+ optional Impact drill)
  4. A level
  5. Tape measure
  6. Drill bit a little wider than carriage bolt
  7. Speed square (optional)
  8. Clamp
  9. Smartphone

Step 3: Installing the Post

As a rule of thumb (not index finger), a 4x4x8 ft post needs to be at least 2 ft deep and 1ft wide for proper stability. Dig a little deeper to accommodate the gravel (about 2 - 4 inches) that I recommend pouring at the bottom of the hole. This facilitates drainage

  • After the hole is dug, pour gravel and use the post to tamper it
  • At the end of the post which will be inserted in the ground, I typically screw in a few screws. In my mind, it helps the post to adhere (maybe someone can tell me the science, if any, behind it)
  • Insert post and plumb it (be certain to position a face of the post in the same direction as you have determined for the panel) and use braces to keep it straight
  • I chose to use fast-setting and regular concrete: 1. I didn't want to wait the 2-3 days for the concrete to cure before installing the mount. And 2. I have seen where fast-setting mixes didn't hold up as well as the regular
  • I framed around the post (optional) and add mix until it reaches desired height (above soil level)
  • Slope the mix, as it cures, away from the base of the post for proper drainage

For additional information on wood post setting, you can try Wikihow.com.

Step 4: While the Post Set

Let me first apologize for not having actual pictures of the actual process. This instructable was after the fact.

Determine if you want the panel to be mounted vertically or horizontally. I was told it does not matter. I chose a horizontal mount.

  1. Install the Z-brackets to the panel
  2. Measure the distance from the top of one Z-bracket to the bottom of the other on the longest side, then measure across the panel from the end of one Z-bracket to the other. You can make the measurement wider or longer as I did
  3. Cut 2x4's according to the measurements (two for each). Label long side V1 and V2; and W1 and W2 for the others
  4. If mounting vertically, place V1 and V2 on top of W1 and W2. *1-Align corners flush; predrill screw holes close to the inside edge (This leaves room to attach the panel without hitting frame screws). Join frames using 2.5" screws. Fig 1
  5. If mounting horizontally, place W1 and W2 on top of V1 and V2. *1-. Fig 2.
  6. At this point, you should check the position of the panel on the frame. See where screw holes will be; and, as in my case, you may have to bore additional holes in the mount. Predrill holes but don't attach panel as yet.
  7. For the vertical mount, center the heavy-duty hinge on W1 and attached hinge. For the horizontal mount, center the heavy-duty hinge on V1 and attach hinge
    1. I found a T-Type hinge at HD, make sure that the top of the T is attached to V1 or W1. Fig 3

Step 5: Installing Frame and Tilt Lever

One day later, I attached the frame to the post. You will/may need some help at this point. I used the 3.5' screws for max depth. The knuckle of the hinge was attached slightly above the post for the maximum upward swing.

Next:

  • Let frame fall to post and use a speed square (or any straight edge) mark the edges of post on V2 (W2)
  • Predrill two holes 3/4 inch from post markings on either side. This places the screws in the center of 2 x4's
  • Place 2x4x10's on both sides of post and attach to V2 (W2) using at least a 2.5" screw (Don't cut 2x4's until the tilt is calculated) See Fig 4
  • Attach the corner bracket (optional) for reinforcement

Step 6: Attaching Panel and Calculating Tilt

Attached the panel using the supplied bolts from the Z-mount or 2.5" screws.

Now you can decide if you are going to use the 2 seasons adjustment or 4 season adjustment

For 2 season adjustment, most data suggest adding 15° to your latitude in winter or subtracting 15° from your latitude in summer.

You can easily find out your latitude at mynasadata.larc.nasa.gov/latitudelongitude-finder/

I came across a website that gives all the calculation and seasonal adjustment for a more precise tilt: solarpaneltilt.com

Step 7: The Final Countdown

Google pay store here I come. Download any app that can be used to find angles.

  • When your angle is found, mark the place on the 2x4's where you have to drill. This is where you can use the optional clamp if your assistant is M.I.A. as mine was.
  • Drill holes through and through for each angle mark
  • You can label each hole by the season or just note the °
  • Install the carriage bolt, washer, and nut.
  • Cut off excess 2x4's
  • TADA

In my case, I will have to change the tilt lever for the summer month incline.

I'm also thinking about placing a horizontal brace from the tilt lever to the post for additional support.

I believe this can also work with a metal pole. The hinge could be connected to a 2x4 and the 2x4 connected to the pole via U bolts.

I hope this was helpful in some way. Feel free to share any tips or ideas on how to make this better.

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    25 Discussions

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    NE6

    Question 8 months ago on Step 7

    I see you have a ground rod and grounding connection going up to the panel but, what are you connecting it to?
    BTW, nice instructable.

    1 more answer
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    Born_to_buildNE6

    Answer 8 months ago

    Thank you. It is connected to the metal frame of the solar panel.

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    millingby

    9 months ago

    suggestion. If you were to move the solar panel PIVOT to the center, you would negate the weight of the panel, making it safer and easier to adjust.

    5 replies
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    Born_to_buildmillingby

    Reply 9 months ago

    Thank you! I'm thinking about adding some kind of wind turbine to this post. If not, I will definitely consider making the adjustment for a center pivot.

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    charlessenf-gmBorn_to_build

    Reply 9 months ago

    If you were to cross a section of 4x4 (half lap jointed perhaps) with another 4x4 forming a cross with one arm longer than the other, you could shift the pivot point to the dead center of your panels.

    Note the bracing is over the arm on the left and under on the right (panel side).

    This would preserve access to the top of your pole for your next (wind) project as well as acheiving the position of the pivot point recomened here.

    pivotpoint.bmp
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    charlessenf-gmcharlessenf-gm

    Reply 9 months ago

    BTW, if you do this again, look for a steel tube for a mount!

    A bit tougher to drill into and such, but stronger, longer lasting than wood and less susceptible to most termites ;)

    If you find a section with and ID = the OD of the main mast, you can fashion a sleeve that will allow mounting the tilt mechanism such that it can be rotated about the main mast and (with a set screw) fixed in one position, then another as the season demands.

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    charlessenf-gmBorn_to_build

    Reply 9 months ago

    I have a couple of old HFT Panels to install and appreciated hearing about the 'balance point' here. Essentially, reading your presentation and the comments got me off the dime!

    Lucky me - a neighbor has a 4" steel pole he dug up (concrete and all) which is mine for the taking - off to a great start!

    Thanks

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    fishhead455

    9 months ago

    The tilt angle is your latitude plus 15 degrees...this coverts the planet's wobble on its axis which produces the seasons. You can make a sun-tracker with a low rpm motor (like from a rotisserie on the BBQ) and an electric photo cell.

    3 replies
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    Ardutronicofishhead455

    Reply 9 months ago

    The photocell isn't actually needed, after all, you have a giant photocell at your side (the solar panel). By monitoring its voltage and current, you can easily know when there's more power or less. This is easier if you make your own inverter.

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    charlessenf-gmfishhead455

    Reply 9 months ago

    Most of the Bar B Que rotisserie motors I have sen at run on household AC. Moreover, they are not able to reverse the direction of rotation.

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    bgreen3

    9 months ago

    You need to put a double elbow on the top of your PVC conduit so the hole is facing downward so water doesn't get in your pipe!

    2 replies
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    Born_to_buildbgreen3

    Reply 9 months ago

    Thank you. I realized that afterward and cork it.

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    charlessenf-gmBorn_to_build

    Reply 9 months ago

    The also make a 'Service Feed' part - but two 45-degree elbows likely cost less!

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    marcpilot1

    9 months ago

    What is "autodesk"?? I'm sorry, I've never seen this "autodesk" thing before. Ever. It's never popped up on my laptop while doing anything on it, EVER, in YEARS and YEARS, like over 10 years of using a computer.

    I clicked "more" under comments and the window popped up with this, "autodesk error", thing, saying something like, "ERROR", "Stupid Bot", then, "Lets fix this" and wanted me to click onto something for that. Um, no. I have no clue what or why or how this is on the computer except that I clicked under comments the "more" comments icon here.

    I've been on instructables for 2 or 3 years, at least and haven't ever landed on this "autodesk" thing. And again, I'm really sorry to ask this(and you or anyone else may not know either).

    My comment was just to ask if an inclenometer tool(a compass thing that satellite techs use before installing a dish at you're home), would be useful for anything, like finding where to point panels, help to angle this panels mount, or anything like that?

    Thanks! Ex write up btw!!

    2 replies
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    charlessenf-gmmarcpilot1

    Reply 9 months ago

    Fastest way too get the answer to such questions might be to 'Google' it! e.g. "Autodesk." in the instant case. As has been pointed out, had you 'Googled" the string "Autodesk Instructables," you might have found this six-year old post (as I just did)"

    Instructables Joins Autodesk


    https://www.instructables.com/community/Instructables-Joins-Autodesk/


    Aug 1, 2011 - Instructables Joins Autodesk. The Instructables community is incredible: you build, bake, and create amazing things, then share your projects and ideas with the world. I think it's great when someone builds a project using instructions from our site, but it's even more amazing when we inspire someone to ...
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    Ardutronicomarcpilot1

    Reply 9 months ago

    Autodesk is the company behind Instructables. They make mainly CAD software (like AutoCAD), but they also operate Instructables. If you scroll to the bottom, at the right is its logo.

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    buddynfo

    9 months ago

    you said a solar track device is expensive. i built mine and it was cheap. 4 small solar cells a motor and pivot. look at this site to get ideas.

    https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=HkhVomoD47g

    1 reply