The Walden Effect: Farming, simple living, permaculture, and invention.

Solar panel tower update

DIY low budget wooden tower for solar panels Harbor Freight special

A little more research helped to guide us towards a system that will allow the angle of the solar panel tower to change for different times of the year. More complex systems have a new position for each month, but we might settle for a new angle for each season to keep it simple.

What will be more challenging is changing the position during the day. We've considered using a heavy duty swivel so it can turn from the East to West.

Once it's all put together we can either move the swivel by hand at different times of the day or figure out a motorized option.

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About us: Anna Hess and Mark Hamilton spent over a decade living self-sufficiently in the mountains of Virginia before moving north to start over from scratch in the foothills of Ohio. They've experimented with permaculture, no-till gardening, trailersteading, home-based microbusinesses and much more, writing about their adventures in both blogs and books.

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After I made this post an idea came to me along the lines of a hand cranked solar panel turner. Some sort of big wound spring mechanism that one would crank for a few minutes every morning to initiate a slow turn so the panel inched from East to West.
Comment by mark Sun May 20 14:26:58 2012

Let me get this straight; you think a mechanism to set a single degree of freedom ("DOF") once per month is to complicated, but you are at the same time contemplating a two-DOF system, which has to be moved several times a day to be effective. WTH? :-)

You should be aware that a 2-DOF system is much more complicated and experiences more concentrated loads, requiring a significantly more solid construction. Do not underestimate the force of the wind acting on a flat panel!

While a 2-DOF tracking system would undoubtably optimize the power intake, it is non-trivial to build. I think you'd be able to find schematics for controllers using four photo-diodes online. But you'd need electric motors and mechanical transmissions to translate the controller input to movement. Now whether you'd find something like that difficult depends on your level of knowlegde and skill. I can think of several possibilities. A chain drive is a relatively easy one to build, IMO. Mail me is you want details. Keep in mind that even when it isn't moving, the mechanism should be able to keep the panels steady even if there is substantial wind.

On the other hand, a mechanical solution like you suggested would certainly be possible, IMO. Using weights hanging on a rope that is wound on a drum as a source of power for the mechanism, like the mechanism of a weight-driven clock. A pendulum could be used as a speed governor, just as in a clock. Such a mechanisn could rotate the solar panels from east to west. Coupled with a guide to point it the right amount up depending on the east/west position is possible.

Since you don't have a metalworking shop at hand, AFAIK, you'd probably have to make the movement out of wood. Now, it is possible to build gears out of wood. See e.g. "woodworking for engineers". But building the pendulum governor is tricky, because it needs to pick up just enough energy from the mechanism during each stroke to keep going. There are however plans for wooden clocks available on the internet.

Comment by Roland_Smith Sun May 20 18:25:17 2012
Roland --- Yes, please, talk him out of it! I think it sounds awfully complex too.... :-)
Comment by anna Sun May 20 19:16:35 2012
I know of a cottage in Maine that has a solar panel on its roof and it moves with the sun. As you sit on the deck in the evening as the sun goes down, it automatically moves all the way back east to be ready for the morning sun. This was part of the whole system when they had it installed. Good luck!
Comment by Sheila Sun May 20 21:33:17 2012
Sheila --- They do make computerized sun-trackers, but they're pretty pricey. I don't think that it would be cost-effective to buy one for a cheap system like this --- probably better to just get another solar panel kit.
Comment by anna Mon May 21 12:07:53 2012

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