Monday, July 9, 2012

Building my "Tracking" Solar Panel Mount

When I first set up our solar panel and accompanying electronics, my theme was speed of getting my investment up and running. Everything was packaged into plastic tubs, and as you can see my actual mount for my panel was lacking in adjustability and security. Luckily we haven't had too many really windy days.

It worked rather well to whet our appetite for the system, and kept up with charging our iPhone, iPad, and cordless tool batteries. Unfortunately, we had to keep plugging them in right next to the inverter, in the largest tub, and this was rather inconvenient. So next I shifted the entire setup closer to the coupling in the yurts, and ran an extension cord from the inverter, into the yurts, and placed a power bar against the door frame.

Instead of resting the panel on one of the tubs, I moved it to a bigger and better mount - leaning against a lawn chair!

But, as you know, we then decided a fridge was the next action. The fridge has been working out very well, but it sucked the batteries dry. Rats, now we had to hook up the generator to pump up the batteries, and it ran for hours and hours to do so. This was not on! The panel was already in the shade of the yurts until early afternoon, so it was probably missing out on about half of the potential sun that was available to it.


As I may have mentioned earlier, on the dump trip where I picked up the screen and lamp for the Tardis/Outhouse, I also picked up other treasures. The remains of a steel gazebo were still in great shape for odd sorts of projects, so I grabbed them and stacked them beside the dojo tent for future use. Now, it was their moment to shine! I arranged three pieces into what already looked like a pretty good mount - able to comfortably accommodate three solar panels. I built expandability into my design! With some simple stove bolts, they were securely anchored together.


Next up was a mount. At first I had considered simply adding more gazebo panels to the back, to create an "A" frame setup that was just pointed at the noonday sun, possibly allowing for adjusting the angle to catch the sun in both winter and summer configurations. Instead, I rigged up an inch and a quarter galvanized pipe, six feet long, muffler and pipe clamped to a nearby tree I had cleaned up for this purpose. I then created another galvanized "T" by screwing two, three-quarter inch by eighteen inch pieces into a T coupling, with a four foot length of three-quarter inch forming the main shaft.


Originally I just dropped this shaft down the larger pipe, but, as my father pointed out, it was a little bit sloppy, and could be easily rectified by adding an inch and a quarter coupler on top, that the flare on the three quarter inch T coupling could nestle into. We created our own out of a scrap piece of aluminum siding and a pipe clamp, but I decided to go with the actual coupling and ended up purchasing that on my next trip to town.

Using some pipe hangers, Dad and I mounted my gazebo frame onto this system, and it worked really well! We could adjust the direction and tilt with ease!

The issue that I then had to contend with was ensuring that the angle of tilt would be reasonably adjustable, and yet, still secure. I had a few notions of straps and wooden braces, but then decided that the more elegant solution simply required more pipe!

This time I added another T coupler, six inches below the original, with the shaft of the T facing the front of the frame. Then, I bolted a small piece of plywood at the level of this opening, but on the gazebo frames. To the plywood, I bolted two more of my "T" supports, in half inch, one with just a threaded connector, and one with a six inch pipe. It's perhaps a bit difficult to see in the pictures, this one was dark when taken, so I've manually brightened it up. In any case, I can now use the threaded connector, which aligns with the hole in my main support shaft, in winter, which makes the whole frame align nearly vertically.

Currently, I have swung it up and out of the way, and swung the other one, with the six inch pipe, into alignment with the open hole, and it is resting there, giving me a bit more than a forty-five degree angle on my frame, better for the summer sun. They are very secure, and yet, only take a moment to swing out of the hole, and get repositioned. Due to the fact that the panel frame is aluminum channel, one must be aware of the possibility (certainty) of galvanic corrosion. Thus, mounting to my steel frame using only stainless steel nuts, bolts and washers - and ensuring that no parts of the panel are in contact with the frame directly.

Donna helped me to carry the batteries, inverter and charge controller over to the base of the new panel, and I hooked it all up. We did this just as the sun was setting, so I swung the panel around to the morning direction, and we had to retire for the evening, way too late! The next day, I beefed up the support by screwing a few two by fours from my main tree to the stumps from two others nearby. Over the course of the day, which was a mix of sun and cloud, we managed to end up getting .1 volts more than we had started with! That's good news!

My next project will have to be something a bit more permanent for the batteries and electronics to reside in though. And for that, I'll need to harvest a few more trees for lumber...


  1. That was pretty smart to use parts of your gazebo to make a sturdy mount for your solar panel! Now that’s resourcefulness at its finest! And it is a good thing that you made it capable of tilting and adjusting its orientation, so that it can make the most of the sunlight throughout the day. Anyway, your steel mount looks big. Have you considered adding up another set of solar panels?

    1. Well, I'm up to three right now. That has been enough for most of my needs up until it has turned to fall sun...