Sunday, 2 December 2012

Arduino Based Solar Panel Power Monitor

My dad has a solar thermal collector on his roof (2x20 vacuum tube collectors).   His commercial controller gives total kWh collected, but I want an instantaneous kW indication.   I am developing this using Arduino (see Microcontrollers Revisited).

Version 1 used a 7 segment LED display:
But I have now received an LCD display off the slow boat from China courtesy of Ebay, so wanted to update it to give more information on the display.
The updated board is shown below:

I made a little mistake when I was modifying the circuit board, and when I added the LCD contrast potentiometer, I accidentally left it one of the digital output pins connected to ground if you turned the potentiometer too far.   The Arduino board suddenly stopped working altogeher, so I thought I had fried it.  I was pleasantly surprised when I powered it from a 9V battery rather than from the USB socket, because it came back to life and appeared to work normally.
We installed it on the panel, and started to get sensible readings off it this morning (see above picture), but it was reported dead this afternoon, with the Pin 13 LED flashing every now and then (which is odd because my software does not use Pin 13)....It starts to work if you power it down for a few minutes, but within 10 mins it crashes again with Pin 13 LED flashing.....So I think it is dead - will de-solder the nano and put another one in instead....

Well, replaced Arduino nano on the PCB with a new one.   It worked fine....for a while (10-15 mins), then as I was packing up, I noticed that the display was very dim, but the LED back light still worked ok, which made me think the battery was ok.   5 minutes later, it was doing the same behaviour as the previous one - no LCD display, and the Pin 13 LED flashing.   This time though, the new Aruino Nano has a working voltage regulator on the USB port.  When I plugged the board into the computer via USB, the board reset and is working fine again.....I must put a current meter on the 9V battery to make sure it is not pulling a ridiculous current or something.  If I am lucky it was just a dead battery, but I am still surprised that the LED backlight worked ok, when the arduino could not boot...I'll have to think about this a bit more...

There was definitely a dead battery involved - the 9V battery was only giving 5.9V, so I can see why the 5V voltage regulator may have been struggling.  The thing I need to find out though, is why is the battery dead?  This should be a nice low power circuit, but I will have to get a new one and check the current it is drawing.
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