Portable two-axis manual solar tracker

Solar tracker in front of my camp at Burning Man

Last year, I took my beloved Engel fridge/freezer with me to Burning Man, but had trouble keeping it powered when my generator died. So this year, I decided to run my camp off of the new 100 Watt solar panel I’ve been using up on my property for a couple of weeks now. While my fridge only uses less than 10 Watts of power, I wanted to try and build a solar tracker to maximize output on my property, and Burning Man seemed like a great place to test such a device.

In order for the tracker to be useful on my property, I needed it to rotate around two axes: one to track the sun during the course of a day, and the other, the elevation, needs to be adjustable since the sun tracks higher or lower in the sky depending on the season. Additionally, in order for me to bring it to Burning Man, it had to be easily transportable, yet also be able to withstand up to 70 mph gusts in the desert.

The general design had been bouncing around in my head for a while now, and is based loosely on a giant tilt maze game I made a while back. To lock things in place, there are two half-disks attached to each of the rotating pieces, which are locked in place using a pin. The whole thing is held together with 1/4″ bolts, and can be assembled or disassembled within minutes by one person. And, as you can see below, it all comes apart into relatively flat pieces for easy transportation. To save weight and bulk, I also used more 2x2s and 1x4s instead of 2x4s, and I mostly used scrap wood I found lying about. At Burning Man, I put my AGM battery, which weighs about 60lb, on one of the legs, and when particularly strong winds were forecasted, I put one of my water cubes (also 50lb+) on one of the other legs. I had the tracker oriented south, and moved it roughly 3 times a day to catch the morning rays from the east, mid day sun from above, and afternoon light from the west.

All in all, it worked very nicely, and I’m happy to report that it fulfilled my requirements perfectly.