Do you need to clean your solar panels in Florida?

Living in Florida, we get a lot of rain that does a good job of keeping our solar panels mostly clean. To see if extra scrubbing was needed, I cleaned 1/2 of my solar panels after they had been installed for 11 months using a scrubbing brush and dish detergent.

The panels that I cleaned went up in power production by an average of 0.11 kWh/month. [0.11 kWh * 36 panels * 12 months = 47.52 kWh of extra power over an entire year…assuming the cleaning effect persists after the first month.] So this is a very small amount of power (about $6 worth at 13 cents per kWh.) in return for an hour of scrubbing. [And this assumes that the cleaning benefit lasts for a full year, which may not be the case.]


I would suggest only scrubbing your (Florida) panels every few years unless you notice a drop in performance.


You can download my data and simplistic analysis in the attached open document spreadsheet: SolarPanelCleaningExperiment


Boost Converter Schematic

Schematic showing a 2 phase boost controller with voltage and current sense
I have drawn up a schematic (click to enlarge) of the high current and sensing portions of my maximum power point tracking (MPPT) 2-phase boost converter battery charger circuit.  The schematic does not include the micro-controller, MOSFET gate driver IC, and associated power supplies, as those items are on the (relatively) low-power side of things.

What do all of these things do?

  • L1, Q1, and D1 – These three components make up the heart of the boost converter. When Q1 turns on, power builds up in L1 as the current rises. When Q1 turns off, all of that power exits via the only available route (out past D1) and the voltage is boosted as the inductor (L1) resists the current change. If you turn Q1 on and off very quickly (under control of the micro-controllers’ PWM output via a MOSFET gate driver) it raises the output voltage higher than the input voltage.
  • Continue reading

Solar Panels on the Electric Truck

Two 175 watt solar panels mounted to the bed cover of my electric pickup truck.
I purchased two used GE Energy GEPVc-175 watt solar panels and mounted them to the bedcover of my truck using 10-24 machine screws and T cone washers as rubber vibration dampers. Each panel weighs 31 pounds, and is rated to deliver up to 175 watts of power in full sun (at around 36 volts each, or 73.4 volts at 4.7 Amps in series). I am still waiting on a group of Georgia Tech ECE students for the magic box that does maximum power point tracking (MPPT) and voltage boosting to charge my 120 volt battery pack, but I hope to be generating 1-3 miles of my daily commute from the sun soon. As my daily commute is 4 miles, this can be a significant percentage of my total energy usage.
Diagram showing the panel layout over bed cover support structure.

I have calculated that in the summer the panels are far enough behind the cab that they will not be shadowed by it, even if I have to park facing south. In the winter and early spring / late autumn I need to park facing north to avoid shading a strip of the solar panels.
I still need to figure out a way to tilt the panels towards the sun to collect as much energy as possible. This is especially critical during winter, when the solar angle is way off of vertical. As the bed cover tilts, AND the bed of the truck can tilt (the other way) I figure I can work something out (with a few pieces of wood cut to the correct height, or linear actuators if I want to get fancy.

Ebike Solar Charging

My electric bicycle has a motor that draws up to 450 watts (if I drive it over its nominal 250 watt rating), and the batteries have only 5AH (approx 120 watt hours) total capacity. Keeping in mind that I should only discharge the lead acid batteries to 50% (approx 60 watt hours) this indicates that I can only use the motor at full blast for eight minutes.

But, since I only use the motor to help go up hills and provide extra acceleration, and most of the time it is not drawing the full 450 watts, I actually have a much longer run-time. I deliberately chose to put small batteries on the bike both to keep the weight down, and to allow them to be recharged using solar cells (8 watts) in a reasonable amount of time. Under full sun, hypothetically the solar cells will generate 60 watts of power to recharge the batteries from 50% to 100% charge in 7.5 hours. In actual practice, it takes more like 10 hours of sunlight, usually around two days.

How does this work in actual practice? Here are some examples.
Early Saturday morning I biked a 2.8 mile round trip to the post office, using the motor lightly. I left the bike outside all day and it was recharged by 4pm. On Sunday afternoon I rode the bike to a friends house ( a 2.5 mile round trip). Because it was overcast and raining, no charging occurred before I then rode the bike another 0.9 miles to the Marta station (up hill) and left it all day. (At this point the batteries had been used for 3.4 miles of travel without charging.) When I returned at the end of the day and rode the bike home (another 0.9 miles) it was not fully charged (due to the ride home) but the voltage had gone up significantly. After leaving it out in the sun for another day the batteries were fully charged.

In general usage, I typically only use the bike two or three days a week (rain, schedules matching up, etc) so the two day charging time fulfills my needs. If the bike was my only means of transportation, I’d probably have to supplement the solar charging with a grid tied charger, or install much larger solar panels at a fixed location to charge the bike.

E-bike solar charging rack

Solar EbikeAn electric powered bike makes it easier to go up hills, and can turn a ride to the train station from a workout into a commute. Typically however, the batteries need to be plugged in to charge after your trip. Although electricity is cheap, this does require that you have removable batteries (or wheel your bike into the house or bring a charger outside). I decided to use the sun to recharge my bike, seeing as how I would be parking my bike outside at a train station all day. This way, it can be fully charged and ready for the ride home when I return. Continue reading

The $175 Electric Bike

Electric Bike
Electric bikes are expensive. Even if you buy the cheapest electric bike you can find on deep discount at walmart, it costs $300. (Formerly $400 before they deeply discounted it.) I decided to build my own out of surplus parts and things I could buy at the local Ace Hardware for less than $300. (Mostly, for the fun of the build.)

So, I bought a surplus motor controller, handlebar mounted throttle, and a 250 watt electric motor. I bolted the motor to the front of my used $20 bike, built a battery holder out of PVC pipes, and made a vacuum formed cover.
Continue reading