Meshtastic

Solar charging of meshtastic devices

I wonder if a true MPPT controller is really justified for charging a meshtastic device. I was searching aliexpress for "Solar Panel USB 5V DC " and I find panels with a voltage regulator manufactured onto the back of the flexible 100W or 50W rated panels with 5V and/or 12V .

I have to ignore the ‘rated’ power and looked ‘100W’ which are 540mm x 280mm (about 21" x 11") and only have a controller output max rating of usb: 5v@2.4a, or 12v@1.2a which calculate to a maximum output of 12 to 14 Watts. Pricing was around $30 US.

The advantage… it is ready to plug into the meshtastic device… just add a usb-a to micro-usb cable

2 Likes

That sounds approximately like my crummy solar test node. This is a not very scientific test I’ve been running outside my house for the last three weeks. It is just a 5V solar panel USB thing I had from hiking, powering a heltec board with a 700mah lipo. I’ve also used the “meshtastic --setpref” command to configure the node to never go to deep-sleep but to leave bluetooth off unless the screen is on. (i.e. the node stays in the light-sleep state and happily participates in the mesh).

When I slapped this node outside the lipo was nearly empty. At least in my current norcal sun it happily stays running forever.

2 Likes

Here’s another option for a solar node. For the last couple days, I’ve been running a Heltec Wireless Stick off of one of these solar panels designed for WiFi cameras. Only time will tell how dependable it is…

The panel has a power bank built in with two 18650s in parallel. I’m powering the Heltec board straight from the panel’s USB with no battery plugged into the Heltec’s JS connector. The panel appears to output the cell voltage from the 18650s, and not a regulated 5v, so I didn’t trust it to provide enough voltage to charge another battery, but so far the Heltec seems stable.

3 Likes

Looking for building some autonomous remote mesh nodes. I’m new to this and have a couple of development boards coming, including the Heltec CubeCell. I wonder if this would be a good self-powered mesh node? I guess it can’t hurt to play…

https://heltec.org/project/htcc-ac02/

1 Like

Hi @sgreszcz, welcome to the Meshtastic community! Unfortunately the CubeCells just don’t have the resources needed to run Meshtastic, some more details here A note on the "CubeCell" boards - not for us

Thank you, I should have done some more reading of the forum first. Too bad about the CubeCell, I guess it is still that old tradeoff between power usage, performance, and also ease of use/programmability.

I’ve been building remote low-powered autonomous time-lapse cameras which definitely have a tradeoff between image quality, cost, and battery life. Having an island-wide autonomous mesh for telemetry would help me monitor the cameras via LoRa and know when I need to swap out batteries…

I’ll order some of the meshtastic supported boards and look at the ones best suited for low-power+solar LoRaWan relays.

Thanks for this excellent project. I’m super excited to test this out.

1 Like

Here is my experiment combining the output of four (red) equal panels, placed vertically
There is a shade tree on the east side above the two (East and S. East) panels.
Notice how the power jumps when the sun is lower in the afternoon and more
direct into the two west side panels
and how low the output is when at noon with high incident angles to the panels.

1 Like

I’ve bought a couple of these to play with. They’re fairly cheap on clearance, and are a couple of dollars cheaper without the battery pack.
Solar Panel

1 Like

For one panel to Canada :mask:
image

Ouch! Sorry, not such a good deal if you’re outside the US. It’s free shipping here.

Something to remember for people in colder climates is that lithium batteries don’t charge when it’s below freezing. So that’s a challenge for making an autonomous repeater for winter use.

Now that I think about it, solar lights still work in winter so maybe the batteries charge very slowly and that’s fine. I guess it depends on how much power the devices need.

1 Like

Fortunately, there are miraculous batteries, (LiFePO4) that charge even when it’s cold and even when it’s hot, they cost even less than lithium batteries.
LiFePO4 batteries can work even in freezing conditions
And they can last between five to ten years, lithium ones last only two years.









temperature management board with relay for the carbon wire

non-flammable thermal insulator
2 Likes

LiFePO4 has a pretty similar charge temperature range to Li-Ion. In general, both are no good to charge below freezing from what I have read.

Lead Crystal might be a good option for those in extreme areas. Charge down to -40. 40% capacity at -40 as well.

1 Like

Hahaha -40 °C, in this case we need a nuclear reactor used in the Voyager probes for better performance😅.
The Voyagers also used the heat of the reactor to keep the instruments warm because they did not operate at low temperatures.
To withstand those temperatures you need insulation, and a small resistance to keep the batteries warm, maybe you use one battery to keep the other batteries operating the lora module warm.
-40 °C also the lora module cannot work, it needs to stay on zero degrees or more.

Straight out of the EByte E22 manual…

Some good info on pg 27-28 about charging and discharging lead crystal. https://indd.adobe.com/view/d39c6a34-2775-4f15-9b18-72c22c2eed17

1 Like

Nobody forbids you to use your beloved lead crystal batteries, I know those batteries and I know their performance without the need for data.
My proposal above of those materials listed was for a configuration more affordable for everyone, low cost and with the possibility of experimenting with them, also for compact and portable systems.
For low temperatures it is necessary to design specifically for that application.
However, LiFePO4 batteries work better than lithium ones in more aggressive conditions, and they have one more thing that they don’t burn, they are super stable and last five to ten years before they need to be replaced.
Try to do some configuration that works at -40 ° C starting from the batteries from the modules lora the insulation, low cost and everything else.
Everyone will be happy to have such setups from you here and some tests on real world and success.

1 Like

Which type of batteries are compatible with the charging circuit on the T-beams, or for fixed installation would we be better off not using the built-in battery and it’s associated charging and just supply power into the microusb connector ? What voltage would then be displayed ?

The LiFePO4 batteries are not good for the ttgo circuit, they have lower voltages that are not compatible, only those of Li-ion 4.2v
The TTGO circuit voltages are 3.0v ~ 4.2v end of the charge.
For LiFePO4 batteries you need to use either a small, very efficient 5v buck converter


Or the charge management board for solar panels that I put above in the lists of possible materials

Some thoughts on solar charging…

I recently talked to a salesperson in the solar industry regarding another project, and inquired about MPPT chargers for a single panel mobile device. I was told it was pointless for single panel, as MPPT requires much higher voltage (i.e. serial connected panels) to reap efficiency benefits over regular PWM chargers. (As far as I knew, it is the amps that change with the light, not the voltage, so I was a bit dubious). In any case that was out of the question for this particular project.

I would prefer to have any panels connected in paralell, as shading a single cell in a serial connected array drops the total power output by 75%. It is also wise to have a diode for each panel. Yes it lowers efficiency, but the panels tend to suck power from the battery at night if directly connected (at least the cheap, unregulated ones do). I don’t know if the TTgo charging circuit takes this into account.

If your panel has any circuitry for the USB output this may not apply, but for cheap unregulated panels it does, most definetly.

(I was on a hike and plugged in my phone at 50%, it went up to 60% before dark, but when I woke up the phone was completely drained.)

I see sugestions on using solar gardenlights as a possible powersource. An interesting and apealing idea, but… these devices charge all day, and discharge at night. We still want to power the device during day, which introduces a paracitic load on the charge circuit. depending on the size of the paracitic load vs charge load, this may lead to incorrect charging and premature battery failure.

(https://batteryuniversity.com/learn/article/how_to_charge_li_ion_with_a_parasitic_load)

The simplest way I can think of to avoid all that math, is to use 2 batteries and charge 1 while the other one runs the load, then switch at a predetermined discharge voltage. That keeps the charge circuit isolated from the load at all times.

If the TTgo charge circuit+a somewhat intelligent panel (a regulated, possibly of the type used to run wireless security cameras) is paired I think that would be the best solution, unless there are issues with TTgo’s charger I don’t know about. Anyone?

1 Like

I have given you ideas of possible materials to use.
You now choose the materials that you believe are the right ones.
I work in electronics and electrical engineering, it is easy for me to build solar systems with everything else needed to make a working system. Here I strongly believe that there are people who know a lot more about solar systems, maybe my suggestions give them an extra push to build something functional at low cost for everyone. I have little time to deal with this.