Solar panels are extra environment friendly than ever, with client choices now able to changing as much as 25 p.c of the daylight hitting cells into electrical energy. But these effectivity charges assume that the panels are pointed immediately on the solar, which is never the case throughout its arcing trek throughout the sky.
The EcoFlow Solar Tracker solves this with a self-powered, motorized robotic arm that retains your photo voltaic panels at an ideal 90-degree angle to the solar. Its sensor locks onto the solar mechanically from nightfall to daybreak, inflicting the two-axis machine to raise and switch your photo voltaic panels in good concord. This leads to 30 p.c extra power produced by your present panels, in accordance with EcoFlow.
Be warned, although: this chatty robot prices $3,399. It additionally isn’t practically as moveable as the corporate claims, and it received confused by clouds and reflections in my week of testing.
EcoFlow describes the Solar Robot as moveable, saying it may be “collapsed, folded up and transported with ease.” It backs up the declare with a poorly photoshopped image on its product page of somebody casually carrying your complete meeting in a single hand — by the fingertips, no much less. The picture is a lie.
To begin with, the Solar Tracker weighs 55 kilos (25kg) with out the panels put in. That makes it a two-person job to maneuver the unwieldy robot. And even with the panel arms folded down, it’s a lot bigger than that picture would have you ever consider, measuring about 25.5 x 56.5 x 40 inches (65 x 143 x 101cm).
It took me about 2.5 hours to completely assemble the Solar Tracker and modify the arms to securely maintain the EcoFlow photo voltaic panels supplied by the corporate for testing. You’ll want to partially disassemble it into two items to soundly transport the tracker up and down stairs or inside a automotive. Fortunately, separating the body that holds the photo voltaic panels from the robotic arm will be achieved in just some minutes by unscrewing a handful of finger-friendly bolts. Still, the EcoFlow Solar Tracker is about as moveable as a 65-inch tv; certain, you’ll be able to transfer it (fastidiously), however it’s not one thing you’ll need to do incessantly.
My take a look at setup was already pushing the definition of portability to the acute. I used a 35.3 pound (16kg) 400W folding solar panel from EcoFlow that measures 42 x 94.1 x 1 inches (106.8 x 239 x 2.4cm) unfolded, or 42 x 24.4 x 1 inches (106.8 x 62 x 2.4 cm) when folded inside a carrying case that additionally serves as a kickstand. That big monocrystalline silicon panel was then wired to the robot, which fed the collected energy to a 100 pound (45kg) Delta Pro moveable battery, EcoFlow’s top-of-the-line energy station fitted with a telescoping luggage-like deal with and wheels for simpler transport. The $1,199 solar panel and $3,699 battery make for a critical energy generator for folks with critical off-grid energy wants. Adding the $3,399 Solar Tracker to the combo makes the entire thing extra everlasting and environment friendly.
On sunny to principally sunny days, the robot works nice. The Solar Tracker springs to life simply as quickly because the rising solar hits the raised gentle sensor, inflicting the bot’s two-axis arm to swing the photo voltaic panel into the optimum angle to gather daylight. This enabled the 400W panel I used to be utilizing to supply between 310–330W of steady energy to the Delta Pro battery all day lengthy with out struggling the peaks and valleys of energy you get from having to manually reposition moveable panels each few hours. The robot did all of the work, powered by an inside battery that’s saved charged by the photo voltaic panel.
On cloudless days, the Delta Pro’s 3.6kWh capability battery was charging at a fee of about 10 p.c per hour. The Solar Tracker fitted with the 400W panels can simply energy a laptop computer, telephone, moveable fridge, fan, and Starlink web with sufficient residual power left over to maintain the battery topped up at one hundred pc to proceed the celebration lengthy after the solar units.
The monitoring’s not foolproof, nevertheless. Far from it.
Once I watched my take a look at robot grapple with the solar reflecting off an aluminum strip that frames the constructing subsequent door. It wasn’t till I shaded the sensor from the reflection with my shirt that it locked onto the big ball of burning plasma within the sky.
Clouds additionally proved to be a problem, as you’ll be able to see within the timelapse under. The Solar Tracker awoke high quality on this notably sunny morning however misplaced its lock on the solar a couple of hours later after the clouds rolled in, inflicting the robot to beep incessantly to tell me it was in search mode. It did this repeatedly all through the afternoon, beeping repeatedly. Weirdly, when the robot loses observe of the solar, it doesn’t fall again to an estimated trajectory. Instead, it acts just like the solar fell from the sky and wishes to go looking your complete hemisphere to search out it once more, beeping all of the whereas.
Watch because the clouds roll in and defeat the solar tracker inflicting the robot to hunt your complete sky.
One hunt I witnessed resulted within the tracker beeping nonstop for no less than 5 minutes at a fee of 1 beep per second. That beeping proved to be such a nuisance over the course of the day that two neighbors rang my doorbell to complain. (Here in Amsterdam, air con is extraordinarily uncommon, and open home windows are the norm.) I lastly needed to unplug the rattling factor out of courtesy earlier than resuming my testing a couple of days later after the cloudless skies returned.
The robot is programmed to beep repeatedly when powering on, powering off, trying to find gentle, or returning to the beginning place. I do know it’s for security, alerting anybody close by that the monstrosity is transferring. But this isn’t a five-ton supply van backing up blindly, and you may already hear the motor anytime the slow-moving robot is energetic. Unfortunately, there’s no solution to flip off the beeping both manually or by way of the EcoFlow app. Too unhealthy as a result of it makes the photo voltaic tracker unusable on my rooftop terrace, a spot that might actually profit from a photo voltaic tracker and battery combo after I renovate it, thereby avoiding the time and money required to wire the area with electrical energy.
EcoFlow says that it’s attainable so as to add an possibility to manage the audible alerts by way of a future firmware replace. But if noise is a dealbreaker for you, then I wouldn’t guess $3,399 on a possibly.
Other worthwhile mentions:
- EcoFlow says the robot can stand up to wind speeds as much as 30mph (50kph).
- It has an IP54 ranking, that means it’ll resist rain and dirt, however you shouldn’t hose it down.
- EcoFlow says the Solar Tracker can be fitted with versatile or inflexible photo voltaic panels from a wide range of third-party producers, as long as the panel weighs underneath 55 kilos (25kg) and measures lower than 43 inches (1.1 meters) in width.
As an idea, I’m fully bought on the Solar Tracker’s potential to optimize the conversion of daylight placing photo voltaic panels into energy. Despite EcoFlow’s declare of portability, its weight and unwieldy dimension make it finest suited as a semi-permanent set up at a busy job website or distant cabin, for instance. Any place the place these power beeps gained’t annoy your neighbors.
Solar charging nervousness for anybody going off-grid for a weekend or longer is as actual because the vary nervousness felt by EV homeowners. And having to continually reposition moveable panels in direction of the solar all day lengthy to optimize charging is a tiresome harsher of the elusive mellow all of us search. A really moveable monitoring robot that maximizes the effectivity of the moveable panels utilized by space-starved van-lifers and weekend automotive campers could be most welcome. Unfortunately, the Solar Tracker isn’t that, regardless of EcoFlow’s claims.
Photography by Thomas Ricker / The Verge