Monday, October 12, 2015

Tapping the Sun: Progress Sheet 1

It's been around quite some time since I posted here. I would like to apologize to readers (if any), who came here looking for something, and finding nothing for almost a month). As you might be knowing blogging is not my mainstream activity. I work for an ITES company, and mid or September to the whole of October and then the month of March is one that is quite busy for us. and this is where I have been busy. What I came here to tell you about is an update on my Five Year Plan (even though, agency which gave birth to five year plans, here in India is dead). The Five Year Plan, because it's been more than five years since the conception of this plan started. I believe I have already discussed in this post, so, I won't be going on again to discuss that and waste your time. Just in case you don't know, I have provided the link to the earlier post, which discusses a prototype of the design, basically, testing the hardware and software that we were about to make operational.

What I wanted was to install a few solar panels on the rooftop of my urban home in Delhi, India. Now everyone who'se been to metropolitan cities must be knowing it very well the cost at which space comes in. The traditional ways of generating harnessing the solar energy and generate electricity are not that efficient since most of these involve placing arrays of tens of hundreds of solar panels (ofcourse, the number depends upon the planned electricity generation capacity, with individual homes like mine, installing one or two or more solar panels to mega solar power generation plants which span dozens of kilometers with Solar Panels mounted in such a way that the sunlight falls directly on the panel for the maximum amount of time. Also, there are some state of the art solar power generation plants which use various kinds of sun tracking mechanisms to try and maximize the output from the solar panels by aligning the panels perpendicular to the sun, which means, designing mechanical systems to move the panels on one or two or even three axis, tracking mechanisms which command the mechanical systems to move the panels in the most optimal positions to maximize the output.

I had wanted to do this for a long time. Just to give impeatus to my plan, and to find an inspiration, I had registered for Mahindra's Rise Prize - Solar Challenge, which asked the participants to do exactly what we were doing - i.e. build an affordable small-sized DIY roof mounted solar kit for household energy needs. While the contest was open to almost everyone living/working in India, from firms to colleges and universities, individuals, we (I and my brother, who is helping me with the project, with his better knowledge of electronics and programming) were kicked out in the selection phase itself. No worries, I was hell bent to do it, as the Rise Prize Solar Challenge was not the reason I planned it. My need to tap into nature for our needs had made me try to particpate in the Rise Prize Solar Challenge. What I guess is the fact that neither me nor my brother is an mechanical or electrical engineer, and we didn't have dedicated sponsor who would sponsor our project through the challenge.

Now, this project of mine, has come out of planning phase and has entered in implementation phase. After doing lots of mind boggling braistorming sessions over the design of the platform, mounting the panels and maximizing the output from them, to make the most of the investment, and a possibility of future scalability, I decided upon a design in my head. It was pretty clear to me but to the other stakeholders, my brother and my father, I had no good way to show them what I had in my mind. I designed a 3D model, but still it couldn't satisfy them with the prospect of the design working. This was when I talked to a cousin of mine, who is a mechanical engineer. He has taken a keen interest in the project since the conception phase, so he readily assured me of help as much as he could. Now what I got was something I had planned, though, not as exactly as what I had thought, but still workable enough to make most of them understand the design and concept of the platform.

Front view of the tracker-platform concept.

Back-side view of the tracker platform concept.
So, moving a few steps ahead I began working on the tracker platform so as to mount the panels on it. The challenge was to do this with the least knowledge of engineering and mechanical designs, a collection of very basic hand tools that, at times make working on these things a lot more challenging a task than it is with proper tools and knowledge/experience. Anyways, I have begun working on it, and the project is now in Fabrication phase. Hopefully, every Sunday, I will take it a few steps ahead, since Sunday is the day when I get some time out to do things like these. For now, I have placed the first bearing on the base. This one will be holding the axis that will be driving the panel through the 12v DC geared motor I am using. I do hope that it holds in there, and is capable enough to move the platform as a whole, since the capacity of the DC motor is not as much to drive the whole platform alone, so, I am using a geared mechanism in the ratio of 3:1 which will drive the platform in its horizontal position. The same will be followed for the vertical movement too.

Top view of the frame with the bearing mounted with axle and the gear mounted in it.
Top view of the frame with the bearing mounted with axle and the gear mounted in it.
I know there's still a long way to go before I am able to build something good enough which will resemble the concepts. I will keep you guys posted with the progress in the coming days.

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