Proof of Concept Solar Panel Sun Tracker

There are all sorts of commercially available sun trackers for solar panels but they are use sophisticated engineering / electronics.

Until now, there’s been nothing out there for the hobbyist. Have a look at this proof of concept video:

proof of concept Solar Panel Sun Tracker video

Details on driving the motor

Thanks to my good friend Bart, NightHawkInLight and NASA for one part of the solution…

The above video shows how to power the motor during the day for tracking the sun.

However, when the day draws to a close and the main solar panel is receiving no light, there’s still one thing left to do…

Resetting things ready for the following day

We have to drive the motor to rotate the plate another 180° to allow the inner tube to return to the starting position, resetting the solar panel so it points in the direction it was in at the start of the day.

That part is easy with the aid of a diode, reed switch and a magnet.

The Solar Lithium Ion Battery Charger module already has the capability to deliver power (from the battery) when darkness falls, so we use this power to drive the motor some more.

To stop the motor at the right time is where the diode, reed switch and magnet come into play:

sketch showing how the magnet and reed switch work in conjunction with the motor to return the inner tube to the bottom when dusk falls
sketch showing how the magnet and reed switch work in conjunction with the motor to return the inner tube to the bottom when dusk falls

When dusk falls, dark-activated power from the battery comes on. This drives the motor via the closed reed switch and the diode.

When the inner tube has returned to the bottom, the magnet activates the reed switch, opening it and cutting power to the motor. This leaves the inner tube at the bottom, with the main solar panel pointing in the direction it started at the beginning of the day.

When daylight arrives again, the secondary solar panels will once more start driving the motor as dictated by the sun’s position. The diode is there to protect the battery from any reverse voltage spikes generated by the motor.

I haven’t checked the exact operation of the secondary solar panels and motor yet, so another reed switch may be needed to prevent the dark activated power from leaking through them when the inner tube is being lowered by the motor.


That’s it for now. I’d love to hear your comments – especially if you spot any flaws!

Timer-delay Off Switch prototype

Written by team member, Mark Ridley

Timer-delay Off Switch prototype

I’ve been working on and have now completed the prototype for the Timer-delay Off Switch.

It’s purpose is to conserve battery juice – especially handy as it gets later in the year and there’s not enough sunlight to fully charge the battery each day.

It’s being tested outside right now with my Solar Lithium Ion Battery Charger that’s powering two 5-LED strings.

I’m just waiting for another 1/2 hour-ish for it to switch the LED strings off.

Here’s a photo of an earlier incarnation while I was adjusting the timing. Either I can’t do sums or I’ve misunderstood how to work them out. Either way, check out my resistor Christmas tree!

resistor Christmas tree while adjusting the delay-to-off timings

It was made more difficult because I need to allow a switch to change the timing between a 5 hour interval and an 8 hour one.

I’ve got my prototype switched to 5 hours and the LED strings switched on at 18:35. It’s just coming up to 23:30, so I keep peering round the curtains to see if they’ve switched off yet.

23:31 Not yet…

23:35 Not yet…

While I’m waiting… reed switches are fragile! I used one in the housing I’m using, hot glued it on top of a steel washer so that the magnet to actuate it placed on the outside of the housing would have something to cling to.

A washer, as I found, is no good. The hole means you get poles on the inside of the hole and around the circumference. That means the reed switch wouldn’t work properly when the magnet was brought close.

(23:41 Not yet…)

So I tried to remove the hot glue and hardly touched the reed switch – alas, the glass casing of the reed switch broke. Boo hoo!

So when the replacement arrives, I’ll be using a small steel plate this time and not a washer.

23:45 Not yet… I guess this calls for a cup of tea 😉

As a side note, I notice that as the colours on the LED strings change, when it comes to blue, they’re very dim. From past experience I know this means that the battery voltage must be getting quite low – so the timer-delay off switch is really needed at this time of year when using a 1.5 Watt solar panel.

23:55 Not yet…

00:22 Yaay! They’ve switched off.

So that’s around 5 3/4 hours. How consistent is this? I’ll time it again tomorrow and update this post with the result.

Update: It’s now tomorrow and it took 5 1/2 hours to switch off this time.

See the now-completed project build tutorial for it here