The goal of the Open Sun Harvesting Project is to make advanced DIY sun tracking and heliostat projects more accessible to the general public. Overall, it has been a great success. The programs, electronics, and designs found on this page have successfully been used in both hobbyist and commercial installations located around the world.
This site is authored by me, Gabriel Miller (In case you are wondering who the ” I ” is). I started this particular project in 2008 both because I wanted to learn computer programming and also because I have always had an interest in solar energy. It has grown wildly from there. Suffice it to say that I now know how to program computers.
Note that there is quite a bit of information scattered around this site. The process of building either a sun tracker or a heliostat is a rather extensive one after all. If your goal is to build one of your own, make sure you read through as much as possible. Don’t forget to also visit the forums and the blog for most up to date information.
While reading through the topics on this page, you will no doubt notice that the information is largely biased towards heliostats. This is because my own personal interest is in heliostats, not sun trackers. Of course, heliostats and sun trackers are similar enough in their design that by developing a heliostat control system I also had a sun tracking system too. So if your own interest is to build a sun tracker, you should find that much of this information is still quite relevant.
Arduino Sun Tracking / Heliostat Program
The Arduino Sun Tracking / Heliostat Program is a program for the Arduino that is able to control multiple types of sun tracking machines and heliostats. It is able to control not just one machine but several, each with its own set of design parameters. It has a myriad of other features as well such as manual control, stepper motor acceleration, and wind protection mode just to start.
To download and learn more about this program, please visit the following links.
Sun Tracking / Heliostat Electronics
The electronics used in the Open Sun Harvesting Project has recently undergone a massive redesign. With the new addition of the Arduino Sun Harvester Shield, the vast majority of the work required to assemble the circuit has been reduced to just plugging a shield into the Arduino. Follow the link below to get started.
Sun Tracking / Heliostat Design
Putting together a complete, well documented design for this project is currently one of the highest priorities. Much progress has already been made however. The latest designs are posted on the Heliostat Design(s)page on this site’s forum.
There is also this older heliostat design which is fairly well documented. I plan on replacing it in the future, but you can still get a rough idea of how a linear actuator based heliostat might be put together.
Also, don’t forget to check out the machines in the “Other People’s Sun Tracking and Heliostat Projects” section below for ideas on how you might build your own.
Misc. Sun Tracking & Heliostat Information
Here are a few safety tips that you should keep in mind when operating either a sun tracker or a heliostat.
When setting up a heliostat, it is necessary to select a target for it. This page contains a handful of pictures along with a few quick paragraphs to explain what a target is.
This page will show you how to set up the homing switches on either a heliostat or a sun tracking machine.
This page will show you how you can increase your heliostat’s efficiency simply by choosing better targets.
This page will show you how to roughly figure out the amount of energy you can get from a heliostat based on your location and the angles between the sun, heliostat, and target.
Here is a program I wrote that uses real world measured data to simulate how much energy you can get from a heliostat, sun tracker, or stationary collector like a window.
Other People’s Sun Tracking and Heliostat Projects
Shown below is a collection of sun trackers and heliostats made by individuals who have contributed in various ways towards the Open Sun Harvesting Project. Click each project’s link for more information on it.
This heliostat project is from a group of students from Khalifa University, located in UAE, showing off their very well thought out heliostat array design, collector, and control system. Even on this small scale, it is reported to be able to generate steam.
This heliostat / sun tracker was built by Josema of Spain. This clever DIY design was put together using worm gears salvaged from car power windows, which provide very accurate tracking according to Josema.
Sid Frantz is one of the biggest contributors to this project. In particular, his careful testing of the Sun Tracking / Heliostat Program and suggestions for new features has greatly added to the program’s robustness. Stepper motor acceleration, wind protection mode, and manual control are all features that were sponsored and tested by him.
Karl from Light Manufacturing LLC has been a user and sponsor of this project for years now. His company has developed a system that uses heliostats to provide a clean and economical source of heat for the process of rotational molding.
Iamtawon has been a huge help with testing both the Sun Tracking / Heliostat Program and the electronics used for heliostats. In particular, he was one of the first individuals to test the multi heliostat control option in the program.
Here is a Heliostat project which was designed and built by industrial design students and teachers from Amsterdam. Inge, Daan, and Bernard are the three individuals who were/are the most heavily involved with this project. The Zininzelfdoen site also features a lot of other clever solar builds too and is definitely worth keeping your eye on in the future.
Jim’s heliostat design will no doubt influence how people build their DIY heliostats for years to come. It is both simple and strong. Jim was generous enough to donate one of these machines to the project, and most of the debugging for the Arduino Sun Tracking / Heliostat Program was done using it.
Brendan’s goal is to design a heliostat that is economical to produce. If you check out his website you will see that he is even making parts for it on his 3D printer. Very cool!
The Open Sun-Harvesting Project’s User Map
Below is a map which shows the location of some of the people who have used the Open Sun Harvesting Project. Please feel free to add your own location to the map if you have also made good use of this project.