Solar panels are more efficient than ever, with consumer options now able to convert up to 25 percent of sunlight hit cells into electricity. But those efficiency rates assume that the panels are pointed directly at the Sun, which is rarely the case during its arcing trek across the sky.
The EcoFlow Solar Tracker solves this with a self-powered, motorized robotic arm that positions your solar panels at a 90-degree angle to the Sun. Its sensor locks onto the sun automatically from dusk to dawn, allowing the two-axis machine to lift and fold your solar panels in perfect harmony. According to EcoFlow, this results in 30 percent more energy produced by your existing panels.
Be forewarned, though: This talkative robot costs $3,399. It’s not nearly as portable as the company claims, and it got confused with clouds and reflections throughout my week of testing.
EcoFlow describes the solar robot as portable, adding that it “can be collapsible, folded and carried with ease.” It backs up the claim with a poorly photoshopped image on someone’s product page, who carelessly moves the entire assembly in one hand—with fingers, no less. The image is a lie.
To start, the Solar Tracker weighs 55 pounds (25 kg) without Panel installed. This makes it a two-person job to move the cumbersome robot. And even with the sides of the panel folded down, it’s much larger than the image you see, measuring about 25.5 x 56.5 x 40 inches (65 x 143 x 101 cm).
It took me about 2.5 hours to fully assemble the solar tracker and adjust the arms to securely hold the company-provided EcoFlow solar panel for testing. To safely move the tracker up and down stairs or inside a car, you’ll need to partially disassemble it into two pieces. Fortunately, detaching the frame that holds the solar panels in place from the robotic arm can be accomplished in just a few minutes by removing a handful of finger-friendly bolts. Still, the EcoFlow Solar Tracker is about as portable as a 65-inch television; Sure, you can move it (carefully), but it’s not something you’ll want to do very often.
My test setup was already pushing the definition of portability to the extreme. I used a 35.3 lb (16 kg) 400W folding solar panel from EcoFlow that measures 42 x 94.1 x 1 inch (106.8 x 239 x 2.4 cm) exposed, or 42 x 24.4 x 1 inch (106.8 x 62 x 2.4 cm) ) is folded in. A carrying case that also serves as a kickstand. That giant monocrystalline silicon panel was then attached to the robot, which fed the collected power to a 100-pound (45 kg) Delta Pro portable battery, EcoFlow’s top-of-the-line power station with a telescoping luggage-like handle and wheels. was fitted with. easy transportation. The $1,199 solar panels and $3,699 battery make for a serious power generator for those with serious off-grid power needs. Adding a $3,399 solar tracker to the mix makes the whole thing more sustainable and efficient.
From sunny to mostly sunny days, the robot does a great job. As the rising sun hits the raised light sensor, the Solar Tracker comes to life, allowing the bot’s two-axis arm to rotate the solar panel to the optimum angle to collect sunlight. This enabled the 400W panel I was using to produce 310-330W of continuous power to the Delta Pro battery All day You need to manually replace portable panels every few hours without suffering power peaks and valleys. The robot did all the work, powered by an internal battery that is charged by a solar panel.
On cloudless days, the Delta Pro’s 3.6kWh capacity battery was charging at about 10 percent per hour. The Solar Tracker fitted with a 400W panel can easily power laptops, phones, portable fridges, fans and Starlink Internet, with enough residual energy left over to keep the battery going at 100 percent to keep the party going long after the sun sets. to be kept.
However, tracking is not foolproof. far from it.
One time I watched my test robot grapple with the sun, reflecting on an aluminum strip that frames the building next door. It wasn’t until I had shaded the sensor from reflection with my shirt that it stopped at the big ball of plasma burning in the sky.
Clouds also proved to be an issue, as you can see in the timelapse below. The Solar Tracker woke up fine on this particularly sunny morning, but lost its lock on the sun a few hours after the clouds rolled in, causing the robot to beep incessantly to inform me it was in discovery mode. It used to do this over and over again while beeping continuously throughout the afternoon. Oddly, when the robot loses track of the sun, it doesn’t return to the predicted trajectory. Instead, it acts as if the Sun fell from the sky and beeps all the time, requiring an entire hemisphere to be searched to find it again.
Watch how the clouds roll in and beat the sun tracker as the robot hunts across the sky.
One victim I observed resulted in the tracker beeping nonstop for at least five minutes at a rate of one beep per second. That beep proved to be such a nuisance during the day that two neighbors rang my doorbell to complain. (Here in Amsterdam, air conditioning is extremely rare, and open windows are the norm.) I finally had to politely unplug the damn thing before resuming my testing a few days after cloudless skies returned.
The robot is programmed to beep continuously when power is on, power off, detects light, or returns to the starting position. I know it’s for safety, alerting anyone nearby that the demonic is on the move. But it’s not a five-ton delivery van blindly backing up, and you can already hear the motor when the slow-moving robot activates. Unfortunately, there’s no way to turn off the beeping manually or through the EcoFlow app. Too bad because it renders the solar tracker unusable on my rooftop terrace, a place that could really benefit from a solar tracker and battery combo after I’ve renovated it, with electricity to wire the space The time and cash required can be avoided.
EcoFlow says it’s possible to add an option to control Audible alerts via a future firmware update. But if the noise is a dealbreaker for you, I probably wouldn’t bet $3,399.
Other worthwhile mentions:
- EcoFlow says the robot can withstand wind speeds of up to 30mph (50kph).
- It has an IP54 rating, which means it will resist rain and dust, but you shouldn’t underestimate that.
- EcoFlow says the Solar Tracker can also be fitted with flexible or rigid solar panels from various third-party producers, as long as the panels weigh less than 55 pounds (25 kg) and are more than 43 inches (1.1 m) in width. be less
As a concept, I’m completely sold on the potential of the Solar Tracker, which optimizes the conversion of sunlight-striking solar panels into electricity. Despite the EcoFlow’s claim of portability, its weight and cumbersome size make it best suited as a semi-permanent installation on a busy job site or in a remote cabin, for example. Any place where these old beeps won’t bother your neighbors.
For anyone going off-grid for the weekend or longer, the concern about solar charging is as real as the range concerns felt by EV owners. And portable panels have to be constantly turned toward the sun throughout the day to optimize charging, which is a tad stern of the elusive sweetness we all seek. A truly portable tracking robot that maximizes the efficiency of portable panels used by space-hungry van-lifers and weekend car campers would be welcome. Unfortunately, the Solar Tracker isn’t like that despite EcoFlow’s claims.
Photography by Thomas Ricker / The Verge