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Old 06-16-2018, 06:47 AM   #1
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Linear Actuator to tilt solar panels

Has anyone used linear actuators to lift/tilt their solar panels?

I'm contemplating using 2 per panel as a lift and as mounting points. I worry that there would be too much flex for use as mounting points. But it would be nice just to much a button to tilt the panels when parked. Thoughts or ideas?
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Old 06-16-2018, 06:58 AM   #2
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Kevin Means has a really nice setup on his coach. See this:


or this:
Tilting Solar Panels
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Old 06-16-2018, 07:20 AM   #3
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Kevin Means has a really nice setup on his coach. See this:


or this:
Tilting Solar Panels
Thanks JD. I think after reading that formum I'm going to have to use gas struts and a ladder to unbolt the mounts. I'm mostly through fabricating the mounts and I don't think the actuator will fit my plan. I appreciate the information!
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Old 06-16-2018, 10:06 AM   #4
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Check out my build. I made linear actuators out of trailer tongue jacks. If you have the inclination to modify things, something like this might work for you. I'm going to motorize it as well so it's going to be a push button operation to raise and lower it.



http://www.skoolie.net/forums/f11/so...tml#post133025
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Old 06-24-2018, 09:35 PM   #5
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That looks great. However, it a bit beyond my ability at this point. Thank for sharing though
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Old 06-25-2018, 01:43 AM   #6
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I thought (very briefly) about doing something similar, but the sheer complexity and cost involved killed that idea dead in its tracks. Sure, it would be nice to press a button and have all the panels on one side raise to whatever angle I select, but what a job it would be to make that happen, with limit switches, angle sensors, locking solenoids, etc etc. Each of my panels sits inside a support frame that's hinged to the roof's central walkway, and to raise them I use a stepladder to reach each panel's two stainless-steel support struts. Each strut telescopes up to the three panel angle settings, slides in T-track at the bottom, pivots top and bottom, and has hinged pivots to prevent any loads except pure compression and tension, i.e. no torsional or bending loads at all. It would be fearsomely complicated to replicate that with linear motors!

Here I am saying that it's too much to make power-operated panels, but I'm now putting the finishing touches to a radiator mister system that's turned out to be much more complex than I would have ever thought possible! I guess it just depends what one's priorities are.

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Old 06-25-2018, 08:22 AM   #7
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I'm not anywhere near this stage myself but what about a wiper motor? The wiper motor only turns one direction yet the blade goes both directions using a cam. They have a fair about of torque so lifting a hinged panel shouldn't be a problem.


The RV video link was fancy looking but if I'm doing that much work, it better auto track the sun.
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Old 06-25-2018, 08:29 AM   #8
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P.S. Green houses have some hefy duty motors for opening windows and such. Sourcing a motor and even the struts shouldn't be hard.
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Old 06-26-2018, 05:00 PM   #9
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What about the stop sign arm on the side of the bus?
Could that be rigged to operate as such?
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Old 06-27-2018, 08:09 AM   #10
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What about the stop sign arm on the side of the bus?
Could that be rigged to operate as such?
Maybe, the problem I see with that is the arm is a fixed distance and either "opened or closed" so your panels are flat or full tilt. You couldn't stop at half tilt.


And I dunno about your bus but mine had all of the guts for the arm removed by the bus yard before sold.
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Old 10-07-2020, 12:38 AM   #11
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Maybe, the problem I see with that is the arm is a fixed distance and either "opened or closed" so your panels are flat or full tilt. You couldn't stop at half tilt.


And I dunno about your bus but mine had all of the guts for the arm removed by the bus yard before sold.
I hope nobody minds me reviving an old thread, but I've been thinking about designing a linear actuator system to raise and lower my panels for optimal solar collecting.

Using the pneumatic system already on a bus is an interesting concept. The way you solve the "either opened or closed" issue is that you use pneumatic pressure to lift the panel to its full distance of travel, then gravity to bring it back to where you want it positioned.

I really prefer 12v linear actuators, though. You have much greater accuracy in positioning and they can be incredibly stable in high stress situations such as wind turbulence.
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Old 10-07-2020, 10:36 AM   #12
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I really prefer 12v linear actuators, though. You have much greater accuracy in positioning and they can be incredibly stable in high stress situations such as wind turbulence.
I'm looking at air pistons for this because I can't seem to find acceptably priced linear actuators of the required size.
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Old 10-07-2020, 12:29 PM   #13
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Originally Posted by CoffeeGuy View Post
I hope nobody minds me reviving an old thread, but I've been thinking about designing a linear actuator system to raise and lower my panels for optimal solar collecting.

Using the pneumatic system already on a bus is an interesting concept. The way you solve the "either opened or closed" issue is that you use pneumatic pressure to lift the panel to its full distance of travel, then gravity to bring it back to where you want it positioned.

I really prefer 12v linear actuators, though. You have much greater accuracy in positioning and they can be incredibly stable in high stress situations such as wind turbulence.
I like your idea. First step though is to understand what you'd gain from the cool contraption. I love cool contraptions, by the way, so if that is the 'why', I understand. Just skip my conclusions, and have fun!

A quick Google search of 'how much solar do you lose when panels are flat' return all kinds of discussion on the topic, including a bunch of design considerations I hadn't thought of, like,
-some solar panels will need an extra frame because they are not rigid
-on fixed arrays, like on a house, wind forces must be factored in. What if you forget to lower the panels and drive away?
-tilted panels are easier to wash
-tilted panels allow better air circulation underneath and can aid in cooling

Another factor is orientation. If your panels only tilt up on one axis your rig's orientation to the sun will also be a factor in solar output.

On to the actual difference in output. One handy site showed solar panel output data from Phoenix's Sky Harbor Airport (Arizona) as a function of panel tilt and orientation. Output was optimal at 32 degrees of tilt, pointed south, but only dropped by 15% if flat. Other sites suggest 10 to 20 percent efficiency losses with panels flat on the roof depending on the location. The further north you travel, the greater the loss.

Assuming the larger losses and an average solar array of 1000 kW you can safely make up the difference in efficiency loss placing panels flat by adding 25%. At a dollar a kilowatt we can now say the 'value' of an optimally tilted and oriented solar array compared to one that is flat is about two hundred and fifty bucks.

So there's not a real business case for making solar panels tiltable, but I'm guessing you already knew that.

If I were doing a cool contraption I would look for a simple mechanical solution, like a c-jack that levers the panels up. I've seen YouTube videos of scissor jacks motorized for various applications. The 'lift components' look perfect for your application and would cost about $375, not including whatever frame you would need to create to hold the panels.
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Old 10-07-2020, 06:54 PM   #14
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I like your idea. First step though is to understand what you'd gain from the cool contraption.
<stuff deleted>
On to the actual difference in output. One handy site showed solar panel output data from Phoenix's Sky Harbor Airport (Arizona) as a function of panel tilt and orientation. Output was optimal at 32 degrees of tilt, pointed south, but only dropped by 15% if flat. Other sites suggest 10 to 20 percent efficiency losses with panels flat on the roof depending on the location. The further north you travel, the greater the loss.
<more stuff deleted>
For me, the first thought about articulating panels is the ability to better position panels for solar gain, yes, but it's also an engineering problem for my mind to chew on when I'm idle. My own design uses a pair of linear actuators that mechanically tilt the panels up to 45į in both directions, so that with the bus parked north-south, the panels would be able to tilt east-west. By using 2 actuators, there would also be an ability to lift a panel straight up (extending both east and west actuators) which would not only allow half of the panels to be tilted, but also lifted above the other half to eliminate shade coverage.

Granted, this is all "later on" stuff. I'm still waiting for basic system components to come in and we're a long way from moving our build that far along. This is a good time to consider how we can keep things somewhat flexible on the roof so that we can make changes and additions as we see fit.

I've been able to do some cool stuff in the past with Thomson actuators. They're tough little beasts, and I still have a few laying around that I can put to use.
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