Pole style solar tracker using linear actuators. Dual-axis PV or heliostat. Good for solar Stirling engine, cheap, std Sch40 pipe stand
Even plants know that you need to follow the sun to get the most energy. So why isn't solar tracking more common? Let's take solar to the next level with a robust, economical solar tracking mount! Active solar tracking can boost output by nearly 50% over traditional fixed position panels. By increasing Photo-Voltaic (PV) output, solar tracking also levels generating capacity which reduces battery usage. The Solibrium tracker will work in balance with the sun to help liberate us from inefficient panels and energy dependency.
Despite the clear advantages, solar tracking has never gained popularity. I believe that a significant obstacle has been the lack of a practical dual-axis mount which is suitable for non-utility scale application. Individuals interested in solar tracking are largely left to their own creativity in designing mounts and control systems, and the results are often ill suited to reliable operation, and usually limited in capacity to a couple PV panels. A properly designed tracking system can add a relatively small amount of cost to a pole style mounting system. Besides PV applications, many Concentrated Solar Power (CSP) technologies require dual axis tracking. Thanks to the Volo Stirling Engine Project (which got started here on KickStarter), there will be many people looking for a practical heliostat that could power a Stirling engine. This tracking mount fills that void.
Why Kickstarter for this project? As with any product that involves manufacturing, there are minimum quantities that are needed to make developing some of the parts economical. I've already spent considerable time and money developing the software and electronics, but I need your help now to make the mount a reality, and put the whole package together.
1. Affordability: Some dual-axis trackers that can only handle one or two panels still cost more than a thousand dollars. I wanted to come up with a basic solution for around $500. The dual-axis option on some trackers costs this much alone!
2. Practicality: The mount has to be able to support up to 1kw of panels, and be built to last for decades. That means strong enough for storm conditions. It should also be built out of commonly available materials.
3. Versatility: The mount needs to work for PV, Parabolic dish, or Heliostat applications. It also needs to work in a variety of locations and conditions.
After building a couple prototypes from bicycle parts, it was clear what the essential elements for a purpose built dual-axis tracker needed to be. I also realized that there were two tiers of performance that needed to be addressed by the controller hardware.
All components of the mast head except for the bushings are made from commonly available angle iron and steel pipe. The primary intended support for the mast head is a length of 4" galvanized Schedule 40 pipe (which has a 4.5" o.d.). This is rated for over 1300 lbs (600 kg) sideways load at a height of 6'. The masthead will accommodate about 75 sq.ft. (7 m2) of panel area (~1KW depending on panel efficiency). For taller mounts, larger diameter support pipe can be used and then fitted with a 4" section at the top for the masthead mounting. Friction and alignment for the azimuth axis will be controlled by custom sleeve and thrust bushings made from Delrin plastic. The plan is to form these from 1/4" sheet to keep costs low. Off-the-shelf engineered plastic bearings will be used for the altitude axis. These should last for a lifetime and don't require lubrication. Tremendous cost savings is also realized by using standard linear actuators rather than worm-gear motors. Although there is some reduction in mobility from using linear actuators, the loss for PV tracking is minimal, and the leverage advantage provided by the linear actuator mechanism makes for a more robust design. Also since heliostats bisect the angle between the target and the sun, they require half the rotational movement of a normal PV tracker. The sturdy panel support frame is well suited to a wide variety of support rail options for PV panels or CSP applications.
Normal PV tracking as well as many CSP applications can be well served by a simple light sensor based tracker; however, other applications, such as heliostats, benefit from a digital controller with astronomical algorithms for optimum orientation at all times. I've already fully developed and tested what I call the "TinyTracker", named after the ATtiny microprocessor it uses to control a simple motor driver. LED's are utilized for light sensors with the small voltage generated by light striking the diode junction being measured by the ADCs on the microprocessor.
A simple but effective enclosure for the LED based controller has been designed from a PET plastic jar. A clear enclosure helps prevent overheating, and the conduit fitting allows a waterproof connection.
The digital controller is based on the Arduino Mega platform, and features an LCD and several ports for various analog and digital sensors. A waterproof enclosure and custom membrane keypad have also been developed, and the firmware is functional but not yet finalized.
Materials you will need
A support pole and mounting rails for your PV panels (or other application) are not included,. These should be available from your local metal supplier cheaper than they can be shipped. You'll need a sunny location free from obstructions to locate your mount, and depending on your rewards option, you will require various additional items. The masthead is designed to fit 4" Sch40 steel pipe, which has an o.d. of 4.5". It is essential that the pole have a proper footing to prevent failure under high winds. A reinforced concrete footing is recommended. If the pole is buried it should extend to a depth of at least 3' (1 meter).
The mounting rail dimensions and strength should be appropriate for your intended array size. Generally two primary structural beams are recommended, which serve as a support for the mounting rails.
The vast majority of our wealth is not spent on things that are logical and necessities. It is spent on things that make us feel good. Often that feeling is all too fleeting, and the reason we feel good is because we have been taught to think we should. The green lawn of non-native grass that takes too much water, the name-brand clothing merchandise we wear to look good, the flavored sugar water we drink, the cars we drive, and the houses we build are all ultimately illogical on numerous levels - but they make us feel good.
When solar energy is being discussed, the intangible benefits seldom receive the attention they should. It suddenly becomes something for an accountant to amortize the expenses and determine the payback period and return on investment. Those things are important, but to focus on them exclusively is to fall into the psychological trap that we have become accustomed to.
I'm asking you to take one little step to change that, by investing in this project because it will make you feel good in addition to being a practical self-empowering investment! Our society has not yet realized that deep satisfaction can come from simple living with self-reliant energy. This is truly one of the most underestimated and revolutionary facets of solar energy, and one that gives great hope for the future of humanity for many years to come. You are the pioneers and the trail-blazers setting the examples that others will follow. Feel good.
Have a question? If the info above doesn't help, you can ask the project creator directly.
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TinyTracker PCB kit - All surface mount components pre-soldered, just mount and solder all through-hole components to build your own simple solar tracker. Attach to any small DC motor. Use for real tracker or just for demonstration.Estimated delivery:
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Full set of plans and fabrication guide.Estimated delivery:
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Full set of plans and fabrication guide + bushing set.Estimated delivery:
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DIY Basic: 2 - 24" linear actuators, bushings, & full set of plans and fabrication guide. U.S. BACKERS ONLY.Estimated delivery:
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DIY Basic: 2 - 24" linear actuators, bushings, & full set of plans and fabrication guide. INTL. BACKERS ONLY.Estimated delivery:
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DIY Deluxe: 2 LED single-axis controllers + 2 - 24" linear actuators + bushings + plans & fabrication guide - U.S. BACKERS ONLYEstimated delivery:
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DIY Deluxe: 2 LED single-axis controllers + 2 - 24" linear actuators + bushings + plans & fabrication guide - INTL. BACKERS ONLYEstimated delivery:
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Mount and Motors: complete masthead assembly, with 2 - 24" linear actuators, no electronics. Just supply your own electronics and 4.5" diam. support pole - U.S. BACKERS ONLYEstimated delivery:
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Basic PV Tracker Kit: Complete masthead assembly, 2-24" actuators, 2 single axis LED based controllers. Supply your own wiring and support pole. U.S. BACKERS ONLYEstimated delivery:
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Mount and Motors: complete masthead assembly, with 2 - 24" linear actuators, no electronics. Just supply your own electronics and 4.5" diam. support pole - INTL. BACKERS ONLYEstimated delivery:
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Basic PV Tracker Kit: Complete masthead assembly, 2-24" actuators, 2 single axis LED based controllers. Supply your own wiring and support pole. INTL. BACKERS ONLYEstimated delivery:
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Digital Tracker Kit: dual-axis digital controller for PV or CSP tracking, 2-24" actuators, complete masthead assembly - US BACKERS ONLYEstimated delivery:
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Digital Tracker Kit: dual-axis digital controller for PV or CSP tracking, 2-24" actuators, complete masthead assembly - INTL. BACKERS ONLYEstimated delivery:
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Deluxe Tracker Kit: 2 meter support pole, masthead assembly, dual-axis digital controller, actuators, and all wiring and hardware - U.S. BACKERS ONLYEstimated delivery:
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Deluxe Tracker Kit: 1 meter support pole (mount on top of any equal or larger size pole), masthead assembly, dual-axis digital controller, actuators, and all wiring and hardware - INTL. BACKERS ONLYEstimated delivery:
- (30 days)