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Show HN: A platform for sharing DIY solar projects (sunboxlabs.com)
236 points by nikodunk 8 months ago | hide | past | web | favorite | 61 comments

I submitted my silly setup which is just a 20watt sunjack and battery.

Sort of related: I just signed paperwork to install a $35k solar system on my roof on Friday (20k after insentives). I'm so excited, I've wanted solar since I was a 9 year old boy!

Congratulations! You’ll love it. We went with solarcity and it was a great decision. I love watching the real-time generation throughout the day.

Wow 35k, what city do you live in?

I live in Connecticut in a residential area. The system is a 12kw, 35 panels. This will cover about 75% of my annual energy usage. I have a family of 5.

Part of the equation is also the size of the roof.

How much peak power you got for that amount?

I'm not sure about peak power at this point but it's a 12kw system. Peak power can really only be determined when the system is on site. There are so many factors that come into play.

awesome. it's going up now!!

boom. you're up! added some specs to your submission, too. nice kit!

Hey Niko, since your just starting out with this Solar Project site, I was wondering if you would entertain the idea of switching out Disqus comments for Remarkbox, a service that I'm trying to launch.

If we put Remarkbox on sunboxlabs it would really help me. You can reach out here if you are interested http://russell.ballestrini.net/contact

ref: https://www.remarkbox.com

Sorry to be cheap, but as much as I hate Disqus it seems dumb to lock myself into a paid plan at Remarkbox when I have no income from the project? I'd rather build it myself, as dumb as that sounds...

Looks great though and I definitely would like a more minimal version of Disqus – nice work!

"lock in" is always a valid concern - the comments are yours so you can always ask me to export your data out.

Reach out to me if you are still interested and we can work out a creative arrangement if cost is an issue!

: )

Hi gang! The "discussion: comments" numbers on the site are the combined total from the original article discussion on Hackernews https://news.ycombinator.com/item?id=14821478 plus Reddit https://www.reddit.com/r/geek/comments/6ov9oc/200_solar_self... – at that point I unfortunately didn't have comments on the site yet (...or the site itself, for that matter). Yes, they're currently just hardcoded :P

The comments on the burningman thread are from this HN thread https://news.ycombinator.com/item?id=15216650

Oh, I remember your original post! I’m glad you made this, as I’ve been slowly bookmarking DIY solar posts, but good ones with detailed information (and pics!) are hard to come by.

Nice! Care to share some good ones here, or even submit them to the site?

I've also noticed a lot of people are building incredible stuff, and think it's time we organize :)

I liked your original post as well, and appreciate the DIY site, nice work.

I didn't read your new write up extensively, but if you haven't I strongly suggest mentioning some feedback I remember from from your earlier posts:

- the need for appropriate fuses to avoid fires - the need to weight the solar panel appropriately to prevent it from flying off due to wind

A fire or injury due to a flying solar panel would unfortunately provide much more negative publicity than the positive publicity of this site.


https://news.ycombinator.com/item?id=15222194 https://news.ycombinator.com/item?id=14824702

The solar panel is ziptied to the roof now! Thanks for the feedback everyone on that from last time.

The fuse situation isn't handled yet, though I will do this soon.


I remember from university how solar is great for cheap and cheerful power applications, and fairly easy to set up. This platform is great idea! My 2 cents: can there also be a 'pitch-like' page or infographics explaining the basic configuration of solar power for newbies? This could encourage beginners to join in and share more, so there will be a nice diversity of simple hacks and ingenious projects.

Next I want to see kits for turning my car into a micro-hybrid: A lithium battery pack I plug into the cigarette lighter which will negate the alternator for most trips.

We could make every ICE car several % more efficient overnight.

Interesting idea, but would it really work if the alternator is still physically engaged?

A electrically actuated clutch pulley would solve that. But, many newer cars already have, and need, a mechanical clutch pulley that disengages the alternator on deceleration.

I assumed it would stop generating electricity (and therefore resistance) when the batteries are topped-up. I didn't even realize they're mechanically disconnected as needed.

Some are, but only on deceleration, to reduce wear on the alternator. It's a mechanical clutch only.

AC compressors, on the other hand, do have electrically actuated clutch pulleys.

So, if you have a car where the alternator has no clutch, you may be able to retrofit an electrically actuated one. You would have to design the part that decides when it's needed as well.

I posted a comment on this project: http://sunboxlabs.com/2017/10/07/stock-sunjack-in-window.htm...

Was wondering, what is the best option to power a NodeMCU on a battery.

The NodeMCU draws around 18mA in deep sleep. Problem I'm encountering is that the current draw is so little, a lot of battery packs don't respond to it when it needs to wake up.

I have tried several power banks, but only the Anker Astro E7 is able to supply power consistently (Plan on getting a smaller battery next since the Astro E7 is 25000mah).

Would using the sunjack setup work? Any fire hazards that might be of concern?

I'm planning on getting this solar panel to test: https://www.amazon.ca/ECEEN-10Watts-Charger-Samsung-USB-Char...

This is really cool.

  sunboxlabs.com is a participant in the Amazon Services LLC Associates Program, an affiliate advertising program designed to provide a means for sites to earn advertising fees by advertising and linking to amazon.com

  Note: Ad-blockers hide the Amazon links you should be seeing here
Also thank you for being so upfront!

Of course!! The idea should monetize itself only if the guides actually make sense. However, if this turns more into a solar software platform, the affiliation strategy may not work so well haha.

One thought regarding monetization:

I assume you're loading ads via JavaScript or something. (I didn't check.) I too saw the notice regarding blocked ads.

It will be a cold day in hell before I disable my ad-blocker, but you can easily manually insert affiliate links as well.

If you sign up for the Amazon affiliate program (which I assume you did), just navigate to the item you're trying to sell, click the "get link" button (or whatever) that Amazon provides for you, and you'll get a nice, shortened affiliate link.

In my opinion, that is a really clean way to do things - you can just create a plain-old HTML list of affiliate links. That gives you a mechanism for monetizing your site, and doesn't require me to disable my ad blocker to support you. Win/win! :)

Speculation: It may require more time and effort to do so. Time is very frequently a scant resource and is even more rare when the project isn't supporting itself financially.

Perhaps they can do both? When there is a specific product in mind, they can link directly to it it with the affiliate links. When that's not needed, they can just let the script scan the page and insert relevant results? Then they can do so when they have free time.

That still takes time, but it may not take as much time? I'm speculating, as stated.

Hmmm that's a good idea. It's what I had originally, but somehow got all fancy with this...

I'll go back to plain text links!

I think you’re actually required to mention this according to the amazon affiliate tos

Plugging a solar panel into a Anker PowerHouse is not DIY. That's how it's designed to be used.

The PowerHouse is expensive. For real DIY you can buy a 3.6V 100Ah LiFePO4 prismatic cell for $125. Or you can buy 60 5Ah batteries for $80 on eBay. You'll end up spending much less than $500.

Prove it! Can you post a how-to? :)

I'd like to but I don't have time to do writeup that extensive right now. There are a lot of other tutorials out there.

A cool feature would be a way to 'request' a project. E.g. I'm interested in lower power, low space, indoor growing systems. Would love to see any projects hooking them up to solar.

Just got a quick prototype of this up a few hours ago. Thanks for the input!! So far no questions or requests, though...

That's a great idea! I'll build a quick version of that next.

Hey OP, it sounds like there is some interest and maybe even a worthwhile community here. My advice is to not reinvent anything special here. What about transforming it into a forum? Every thread with a different project, with different categories.

Doesn't have to be a forum, but something that you don't have to spend/waste time to make and can still be useful to everybody :)

Hmm that's really good input. Any other thoughts on this? I thought people would be more likely to use it if they didn't have to sign in?

I'm not entirely sure. What about a subreddit? There are already some similar things (not about solar), e.g. https://www.reddit.com/r/DIY/ and it seems to work out pretty well for them. I expect most of the HN crowd (or the relevant people, anyway, who might not be on HN) are familiar with reddit already and similar subreddits (/r/electronics, /r/hardware, /r/raspberry_pi, etc.). Simple upvote system, and comments already baked in.

Awesome idea!!

It might be OH but is there a software which can let me simulate and experiment with various configuration to maximize solar energy capture. I have some tiny pieces of land which I want to use for harvesting renewable energy. What I don't want to do is to buy equipment and then write it off as sunk cost.

Software simulation seems to be the cheapest option but I don't really know what is out there I can build upon.

I submitted my SolarPi project: http://solarpi.tafkas.net


- Couldn't find your installed power

- Couldn't find the installation cost/"real time" ROI

- Price of your kWh

- temperature doesnt work

Followed up with the poster. Hopefully he'll update soon!

awesome project!! Going up now!!

If you need more background or a write up, let me know (I submitted my email address too).

Cool! You're up!

I guess the platform's for software projects too now :)

I've emailed you for a more in-depth write up – if you have any more images of it in action hit me up!

Just wanted to say: very cool.

Since I see that you were powering a space heater:

Conductive heating/cooling is the future. Why heat an entire space when you can buy an electric mattress pad and just heat your bed?

Soon enough we'll have cheap and convenient wearable heat-pumps with individually controlled dials rather than senselessly heating/cooling entire spaces.

It's an interesting idea, but if your house has decent insulation to minimise heat loss (e.g passivhaus https://en.m.wikipedia.org/wiki/Passive_house) then it's perhaps more practical just to hear the entire space.

Oh, it helps too if your house is not a mcmansion with vast internal spaces.

I have a large house and it uses both active and passive solar. Even the trees are situated to give ideal results.

If you're curious, it is an envelope house and oriented to make maximum benefit with the Sun. The second floor overhangs the bottom floor which blocks the peak solar energy from hitting the windows.

It produces more energy than it uses, and also uses a couple of turbines. There is a room in the basement that is dedicated to controlling it all and is where the battery banks are all stored.


I didn't do much of the design myself, except the initial drawings and consultation.

I didn't install any of this myself. I'll poke at lots of things, large voltages are not one of those things.

It isn't a matter of being ecologically sound, it is practicality. I lose grid power both frequently and with long durations. I like my modern conveniences. Solar and wind were my options, though I have a whole house generator if/when they aren't adequate.

It isn't ever going to be financially a cheaper option. Never. I'm never going to break even, it will never cost me less than mains power. This is also because I will continue to be on the upgrade cycle, my installer happily lets me trade my old stuff in.

It is, however, much less expensive than homes with similar sizes. The house is on zones and heated according to use. I have no AC as it isn't required. The passive solar and the external temperatures means it never gets very hot here.

I'd be happy to answer questions, but I really don't know much about it. I had it all done for me and barely understand it. There is an in-place monitoring service that tells me what is going on, but I keep that firewalled from the 'net. It lets me see what is doing what, how much energy is stored/produced, what gets pushed out to the grid, etc...

As I said, it's not meant to be green nor will it ever be cost effective. I've only produced more energy than consumed for the past few years. I often have no mains power for a week at a time. Using a generator for that long wasn't really conducive to my lifestyle.

The installation wasn't cheap. I live near Mt. Washington, on the side of a mountain, and wind is a serious issue and I get 3 to 4 meters of snow every year. The best I can offer is pictures. I haven't invested much energy into learning the details and I have absolutely no intentions to try working in it myself.

Sounds very interesting and would appreciate you sharing the pictures you mentioned. theluxcrib [at] gmail [dot] com

I'll try to do you one better. I use Maine Solar, out of Starks, Maine. They are over next to Harry's, which is where the weed festivals started and continue.

Anyhow, I have to head down that way during the coming week. I will see if I can get him to write something up. I can kind of explain it, but I don't know all the details. I know what to do with it and how to verify that it is not pushing energy to the grid during an outage, for example. However, that trips automatically and I have no idea how - but I do know how to go check the manual switch to ensure it is off.

I know, for example, that it synchronizes with the mains before it comes back online and grid power becomes available, but I don't know how that is specifically done.

I know how to turn the turbine blades and lock it into place when it gets windy enough. I hit two switches. I guess they will self-protect, but I've never noticed it doing so and haven't any idea the specific mechanism. If gusts are up past 45 MPH, I just turn the turbines sideways and a switch locks the brakes on it.

I have a huge bank of batteries, they are just expensive car batteries. They are from a brand called Optima, I do know that. I don't change, test, or maintain them myself. I will be converting to a number of Power Walls, but I am not sure how many I will need or what the costs will be - or when they will be available.

So, I'm only good for general information. I will see if he will give me a list of parts and how it is all configured. I'm sure he will, it just will eat up some of his time. There is a bunch of literature tucked into a cabinet in the room. I'll see if I can make something coherent with that, pictures, and whatever he can supply me with for more info.

I do know he has pictures of what he has done here. He may have them on his site. He did have some pictures included in some brochures he was handing out. Either way, I'll try getting a bunch more info for you. I should probably at least learn more about it myself. I've just been pretty lazy about it and lots of electricity scares me.

I for one prefer to not have my pipes freeze solid and burst, so I heat my house to a minimum of 60 all the time, and the "unheated" basement (which has no vents from the furnace, merely the furnace itself and radiant heat from the ductwork) keeps at about 50, safely far from freezing.

>Why heat an entire space when you can buy an electric mattress pad and just heat your bed?

One reason is that breathing cold air overnight is bad for your health. IIRC a recommendation is to keep it above 16C.

In Scandinavia the lore is that the cold is good for sleeping. They stick their babies outside to nap even when it is below freezing:


Got a citation on that?

Apparently, it was the past too. I don't know many young people that use electric blankets. Plenty of stories about parents or grandparents with freezing homes using them though.

Kind of like HN for DIY solar. Nice!

all your outbound links are messed up tried to click on the solarpi


got that instead

thanks, fixed. wasn't sure if this was something worth building in a scalable manner, so there's still a lot of manual labor involved on my end, and a lot of room for dumb mistakes :)

=D awesome! if anyone is looking to test further with a utility please reach out (mbloom1915@gmail.com)

Timely, I just soldered my first cells...

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