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Building a Portable Solar Tracking Mount

June 18, 2015
Building a Portable Solar Tracking Mount

Dave Hamm shared his recent project with us, a portable solar tracking mount.  The idea stemmed from the realization that people have been building portable solar generators for emergencies, camping trips, boating, etc., but few have any sort of mount for their unit.  Similarly, Dave had a portable solar power generator unit, but got tired of positioning it.  He wanted a sturdy mount that wouldn’t be knocked over in the wind.

Here is his general design.
Dave's Design

Below is a video of his mount in action.  You’ll notice that it’s partly cloudy so when clouds cover the sun, the tracker circuit will wait for about 10 seconds for the clouds to pass, then if the clouds remain, it will search for the brightest spot in the sky. Therefore, there are a couple of times in the video where the mount appears to move back and forth briefly.  His tracking unit can be programmed to reset at night.  Below Dave answers some questions we have about his build.  Enjoy!

What inspired you to build it?  Where did you get the idea?

Basically, when a hurricane came through a few years ago (I think it was hurricane Ike), we had wind damage, and were without power for a week. One of the biggest disappointments during the outage was attempting to keep the food from spoiling in the refrigerator. Then there was the lighting at night, and it does not take much to extrapolate to what would happen during the winter.

I bought a small portable solar generator last year, and fairly quickly became weary of always pointing the solar panel toward the sun during the day. Also, quite frankly, the unit that I bought was not made as well as it could be, so I decided to build my own unit (Do It Yourself style).

With the parts I had, I figured I could build two more portable solar power generators. And, I wanted to make some kind of tracking system since practically nobody makes small portable tracking systems or mounts.

How long did it take to build your portable solar tracking mount?

I probably spent the month of May on the build, level of difficulty is probably similar to a high school project. Most of that time was in obtaining parts. The tracking circuit was shipped May 5th, and I had ordered the tripod on the 10th. I continued to order parts from ServoCity on May 9th and May 15th, with a final order on May 24th, I think. I had finished the mount and tracking system design by about June 3rd. So, the time frame was largely dependent upon obtaining the parts.

Back of solar trackerBack view

Side viewSide view

What difficulties/challenges did you run into while designing/building?  What was frustrating?  What went well?

I started by obtaining the parts. The first items to show some difficulty were simply attaching the parts. I had noticed some leaning while turning, which was resolved by securing the channels together. Also, I saw the need to secure the motor mount.

The next problem I had was with the mount design. I have wires to the tracking circuit, then leading to the motor. (The tracking circuit controls the motor.) I noticed that my original design was causing the wires to wind up around the base, causing the wires to disconnect. That resulted in a re-work of the design so that the wires would not wrap around the motor.

What was your favorite part about this project?

It’s always a thrill to build something, then see it work properly. Now I can let my portable solar generator charge up as best it can without having to adjust the panel all day long. I get a kick out of that.

Parts list:

Be sure to check out more of Dave’s work on his blog!