• mpp temp. drift compensation

    rawe06/24/2014 at 12:31 0 comments

    just for completeness... yes, temperature drift of solar panel (so MPP voltage) can be compensated by the transistor in the input-voltage-regulation-loop, at least if forward voltage, temp. coeff. and temp. diff. are the same for that transistor and the panel (which is not the case for the real application, unless I hand-pick the transistor and couple it closely to the panel):

  • Enclosure: Solarbucket

    rawe06/10/2014 at 08:11 0 comments

    A paint bucket, with some modifications, makes up a nice enclosure for the battery and electronics.

    A 35Ah battery is held in place with an L-shaped metal part originating from an old old SCSI flatbed scanner power supply. As it is made of perforated metal, it is ideal to mount the electronics on there. The metal part is mounted to the bucket with rivets.

    Holes were drilled in the bucket to let moisture out. I don't plan to overcharge the battery but if it does by some reason, the fumes should have a way out, too.

    Front-panel-mount-type fuse holders and battery terminals are ordered and should arrive in some days...

  • lantern mount / test run (/w PSU)

    rawe05/20/2014 at 21:33 0 comments

    Double ferroules and short 30cm pieces of wire connect the single lanterns. The whole construction is mounted with zip ties.

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  • measuring U/I and U/P charts of unknown solar panel

    rawe05/10/2014 at 14:14 0 comments

    Finally, today is a day with sunny weather + some hours of free time :D

    Question: At which voltage should I use my (unknown type) solar panel to get maximum power out of it? Is it really that worse if I use it a few volts above or below? Is it worth the effort to use a buck converter?

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  • LED lanterns

    rawe04/30/2014 at 17:21 0 comments

    The build process of these is quite simple, parts count is at a minimum, assembly is fast and price per lantern is approx 5 Euro.

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  • panel mount

    rawe04/24/2014 at 21:49 0 comments

    Cheap robust (8Eur per piece) L-Type shelf brackets (30x45x3cm) were slightly modified.

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  • battery charger /w step-down

    rawe04/16/2014 at 10:04 0 comments


    The battery charge controller should do two things: get as much power out of the solar panel and switch off if the battery is full.

    To get maximum power out of a solar panel, it is necessary to use it in (or at least near) the MPP (maximum power point), normally an MPP-Tracker algorithm would do this.

    Here is a sketch of the U/I relation of a solar panel and the P/U relation:

    Output current stays about constant as long as the voltage on the panel is below a certain point. But as power equals current times voltage, it makes sense to use the panel in the upper range where P is max.

    I am too lazy to build an own stepdown controller with custom regulation, mpp tracker algorithm etc (see here for a nice one by a guy who does this in his job, too), so I'll go the easy route based on this concept.

    It does no software MPP tracking, but still provides better efficiency than a simple linear regulator (or  even a series diode). Plus these LM2596 step-down converter boards are really cheap (2 eur per board) and I got some of them in my parts bin.

    This test setup with 2k pot / 47k voltage divider to base of bc547b with 220k pullup works for holding the input voltage above a certain point.

    With further modification it fits the application:

    The copper  board is soldered to GND of the DCDC board and acts as additional heat sink. It took two soldering irons set to 450°C to solder that board sandwich together, but the caps seem to have survived it. The additional board got holes to mount this construction in a housing. I've soldered the in/out wire GND/"-" directly to the GND contact of the switching regulator for cleaner wiring.

    The additional NPN transistor is located near the heat producing elements, which is not ideal, due to temperature dependency (ideal would be same temp. as solar panel). The ideal location for this circuit would be near the solar cell. Calculations or maybe a simple simulation have to show if this matters that much.

    Control loops

    In normal (unmodified) schematic, the step down converter just does the following to regulate the output (simplified, there may be a nested current control loop, depending on regulator, which I omit here):

    ...with resulting output current:

    With the additional parts, the schematic forms nested control loops:

    As long as the input voltage is about a set value, the buck converter just does its normal work and regulates the output voltage. As soon as the input voltage gets too low (because the solar panel can't provide that much current), the outer control loop kicks in and limits the current by disabeling the output:


    Temperature compensation

    As the MPP is temperatue dependent (a solar panel is just a bunch of odd mutant ninja diodes, so shockley equation applies), it makes sense to add at least some degree of temperature compensation to get out more power:

    The forward voltage of a diode changes with some mV/Kelvin (usually around -2mV/K for a silicon one).

    As a solar panel consists of a bunch of diodes in series and this temperature dependency applies to every single diode, the temperature dependency of the whole panel sums up to

    Upanel,tempdep = Uref - Ctemp * Ndiodes * deltaTemp

    The circuit sketched above regulates its input voltage to a point depending on the base-emitter voltage of the BC547B on its enable pin. This voltage is generated from the input by a voltage divider, so:

    Ube = Uinput * dividerfactor ; Uinput = Ube / dividerfactor
    Ube = Ube,ref - Ctemp * deltaTemp
    Uinput = (Ube,ref - Ctemp * deltaTemp) / dividerfactor


    Uinput = Upanel,tempdep

    ...this resolves to...

    (Ube,ref - Ctemp * deltaTemp) / dividerfactor = Uref - Ctemp * Ndiodes * deltaTemp
    (Ube,ref - Ctemp * deltaTemp) / (Uref - Ctemp * Ndiodes * deltaTemp) = dividerfactor

    ***BLABLA put some more thoughts in this and plot a nice chart, plus find a way to show nice formulae on hac.io, and re-calc the whole thing on paper. Ascii monospaced text is just a pain to think...

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  • undervoltage protection and automatic dusk light switch

    rawe04/14/2014 at 21:30 0 comments

    The "undervoltage protection and dusk light switch" has two purposes:

    • It switches the load off as soon as a critical (low) voltage is reached.
    • It disables the output as long as the solar panel still provides more than an adjustable voltage (e.g. by day it disables the attached LED lights).

    There is no charge controller in here as it is a separate function. There are no fuses drawn here, too. Always use fuses if dealing with stuff that can provide enough power to burn or damage something... Also, there is no (required) flyback-diode for the relais coil drawn. 

    The circuit is designed with low parts count and bin parts reuse in mind, so it is by no means a perfect by-the-book circuit and may show bad design technique. Think of diode forward-voltage and its temperature dependency, relais hysteresis depending on part variation etc.

    Here is a quick sketch of the schematic which shows the working principle:

    Undervoltage protection:

    The output from the charge controller is connected to the car battery by a power diode. A 10 volts zener diode (with current limiting 2k2 resistor in series) drives the base of an BC547B npn transistor. A second 2k2 resistor is in parallel with the base-emitter-path of the BC547B npn transistor. This reduces the sensitivity of the circuit to noise, but also reduces hysteresis (which could lead to oscillation). The base capacitor of a few µF dampens oscillations which could occur by the non-zero series resistance of the car battery, a fuse etc. as the transistor circuit provides negative, phase shifted (relais inductor coil) feedback with gain.

    If the battery votlage goes high enough, current flows thru the zener diode and the base voltage of the BC547B npn transistor rises high enough that there is enough base current to drive the relais strong enough to switch on. Load connected.

    If the battery voltage falls low enough, base voltage and current of the BC547B transistor goes down so the relais will switch off again. Load disconnected.

    automatic dusk light switch

    Assuming that the battery is fully charged, there is no or only a low load on the solar panel. This means it provides approx 20V (at least mine does). A solar panel is (within limitations) a current source with current depending on light level. 

    By driving this current thru a current-sensistive amplifier/switch (BC547B again...) and preventing the relais-driving npn transistor from switching on by stealing its base current, the logic function "if light level is above a certain limit, disable output" can be achieved.

    To make the switching point adjustable, a potentiometer can be used to set the base current. 

    As the load on the solar panel increases (charge circuit tries to kick in as soon as battery voltage drops), the output voltage of the solar panel drops further (now by darkness and load). This mechanism provides positive feedback, so this time no oscillations should occur.

    First test testup of undervoltage circuit:

    ...built on prefboard:

    ...provides the following Uin (CH1/X)/Uout(CH2/Y) relationship (sorry for the screenSHOT, I had no fat16 usb stick):

    Hysteresis is just about 240mV with this circuit, which may be too less to avoid oscillation, based on the series resistance of the battery.

    I've decided to leave the dusk sensing out of this circuit part for now, as the LED modules provide this function.