How to Run a DC Motor Using Solar Panels (Do This!)

Solar panels and DC motors have been around for quite a while, but there is still some mystery surrounding how the two of them work together. DC motors come in all shapes and sizes. Apart from enormous pieces of machinery, people also use them in small hobby projects.

We know that solar panels convert the sun’s energy into electricity, but how does that work in tandem with a DC motor?

Here are some key points we’ll go over:

  • What is a DC motor?
  • How do you regulate solar energy efficiently?
  • How do you control a DC motor?
  • How do the solar panel and the DC motor interact?
  • Do you need a battery as part of your setup?
  • How does all of this come together to make your DC motor run on solar power?

If you’ve been stumped on how to get your solar-powered DC motor up and running for your project, don’t worry. In this article, we’ll break down everything you need to know to get your project all fired up!

Dc Motor Black Background
Dc Motor Black Background

Items You Need for Your Solar-Powered DC Motor

To get started on your solar-powered motor, you’ll need a few key items:

  • A solar panel
  • A DC motor
  • A Maximum Power Point Tracker
  • A DC motor controller
  • A battery (optional)

What is a DC Motor?

“DC” refers to direct current, which is the type of electrical current flowing into the motor. A DC motor consists of two main parts: the stator and the rotor, which is sometimes also called the armature. 

The stator is the housing of the motor or the outside shell that conceals the rotor. Stationary magnets or electromagnetic windings are attached to the inside of the stator.

The rotor is the piece within the motor that is moved by the electrical current. The rotor is wrapped with electromagnetic winnings that correspond to those attached to the stator. 

How does a DC motor work?

When electricity flows into the motor, it creates a magnetic field within the stator. The magnetic field causes the rotor to turn, thus creating mechanical energy.

This electromagnetic field is concentrated by coils of insulated wire that are wrapped around the core of the motor. 

This movement of the rotor is referred to as torque. An output shaft is usually attached to the rotor in order to cause movement outside of the motor.

What Is a Maximum Power Point Tracker?

Put simply, a Maximum Power Point Tracker, or MPPT, is a DC to DC power converter. Often, the power generated by solar panels does not match well with the energy capacity of the battery or machine. 

Solar panels are often labeled as having an output of 12 volts when they really produce 16 to 18 volts. 12-volt batteries, though, stand firmly at their 12-volt capacity. So what happens to the other few volts? 

How does an MPPT work?

The volts that aren’t making it into the battery aren’t lost, they’re just not being produced. This means that the solar panel isn’t working as efficiently as it could be. That’s where an MPPT comes into play. 

An MPPT is a digital device that keeps track of the amount of energy that the solar panel generates and compares it to the capacity/energy requirement of the battery or machine.

Considering these two factors, the MPPT then makes adjustments to the flow of energy from the solar panel to the battery or machine.

The adjustments made by the MPPT help make the flow of energy from the solar panel to the battery or machine as efficient as possible.

Additionally, this can also remedy the sometimes fluctuating current coming from the solar panel that charges in sunlight can cause.

What Is a DC Motor Controller?

A DC motor controller gives you finer control over your motor by limiting the amount of electricity flowing into the motor. Limiting the amount of electricity flowing into the motor will affect your motor’s speed and torque. 

How does a DC motor controller work?

In a DC motor setup, speed and torque are inversely linear, meaning that they work in equal but opposite directions in terms of power and output.

The higher the speed, the less torque there is. In turn, the more torque there is, the slower the speed.

DC motor controllers allow for greater control over these two factors, thus helping you to make your DC motor run the most efficiently it can for what you need.

Do you need a battery?

Technically, you don’t need a battery. Your solar-powered DC motor will run just fine without a battery, but it is recommended to add one so the use of your motor isn’t limited to the amount of daylight you have.

How to Run a DC Motor Using a Solar Panel

Once you understand all of the components, the process is very simple.

First off, you have two main components: the solar panel and the motor itself. As we mentioned before, you don’t want to directly connect these two as it could result in an under-performing solar panel and an uneven source of power. 

Installing a Maximum Power Point Tracker between your solar panel and your DC motor will ensure that your solar panel will be working as efficiently as possible. It will also ensure that your stream of power will be steady. 

Power from solar panels can sometimes be irregular due to varying amounts of sunlight. Power quality can also be impacted by the discrepancy between the number of volts being output by the panel and the number the volts your device can actually accommodate.

An MPPT will regulate the electricity coming from your solar panel into a steady stream of electricity for your motor.

Lastly, installing a DC motor controller will give you finer control over your motor, allowing you to adjust both speed and torque. This will allow you to properly optimize your DC motor to fulfill the exact needs of your project.

Sources:

How-To Solar Panel FAQ

How do you set up a solar panel?

When it comes to solar panel installation, there are several ways of doing it. You can do it yourself or hire a contractor to do the installation for you. Solar panels can be mounted on your roof with a specialized mounting system, or on the floor with a safe, specially-made rack.

Some users even have mechanized solar mounting systems, where their solar panels are on a motorized stand that slowly follows the sun as it moves through the sky.

Can you install solar panels yourself?

Definitely! Of course, this depends on the complexity of your setup, though. If you are setting up a relatively low-power, smaller solar system, DIY is certainly an option. If you’re setting up a larger, grid-tied system of over several thousand watts, the installation can become somewhat complex, and it may be a better option to bring in a professional. 

The biggest hurdle is the wiring, especially in a grid-tied, high-power system. Dealing with electrical connections can be dangerous, and any short circuits can quickly cause fires, so it’s important to know what you’re doing or get a qualified electrician to help you.

How to clean solar panels?

To maximize efficiency, it’s helpful to clean your panels regularly. Dust and grime collect up quickly on these large surfaces, reducing the panel’s ability to harness the sun's power. 

You’ll need to wipe them down gently with a cloth or even a soft broom every few months and a mild soap and water solution, especially during periods with little rain. A good clean once every six months is plenty if you live in an area with regular rain.

How to connect solar panels?

Most of the time, solar panels must be connected in parallel to keep the voltage consistent. This simply involves connecting all the positive terminals and all the negative terminals.

Connecting your panels in series will boost the voltage, which you’ll only need to do if you’re trying to meet the voltage requirements of your inverter or batteries.

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