Over the past 2 years I’ve been working on a project to use renewable energy in a small scale. It started out of the need to create backup energy – my area was hit by a storm and we were out of power for 4 days and I wanted to be prepared for the next one.
I researched the market and looked at available technology and bought some solar panels, inverter and batteries. Hooking that up is very simple and it was ready to use. After spending $500 I had a working setup but now it was sitting there all day fully charged and doing nothing.
I decided to hook my fridge up to it and run it 24/7 on the small solar setup. That worked well until there we had a bunch of cloudy days in a row and the battery did not have enough juice to cover it. So I did more research and found out how you have to design “real” off-grid systems and how deep discharging impacts the lifetime of batteries. I decided that is was not worth it and was looking for other solutions. But there are only two: “big” grid-tie installation or an off-grid system.
So I had a bunch of solar installer over at my house and we got mostly the same answer: your energy consumption ($50/month) is too low to make the numbers work for you. At first I was very disappointed but then I thought it might be an opportunity.
I bought an Arduino and started designing my own controller that should do something very simple: use solar whenever the sun is shining and use the grid at night or on a cloudy day.
After a year I had a stable prototype and I started telling friends about it. They liked it and I started showing the idea on environmental fairs - that got me a lot of positive feedback and I decided to make 5 of the controllers for “field” testing. Here are some pictures of the PCB:
I is currently using an ATmega2560 and runs really well - but it cannot be hooked into the IoT. After discovering the Spark I decided the re-design the PCB and concept and ditch the ATmega and make it a plug in board. It currently holds a slot for the Spark and Arduino Nano.
I am thinking of going for crowd-funding because to make this unit affordable I need to manufacture at least 300 of them. When I look at other solar projects that get successful funding they are either “solar roadways” or small portable smart-phone chargers.
I’d love to hear if anyone has any ideas or thoughts about the concept. Any and all ideas are appreciated!
Thanks in advance!