How much more battery life do you get by adding solar panels to your quad?


The setup: (I used a lot of Ian's design for the frame)

APM 2.6

2200 MAH LiPo Battery

15x5.5" Carbon Blades

20 Amp Afro ESC (love the hair)

RCTimer 5010 - 360Kv motors

12mm x 600mm Carbon tubes

2000 Microfarad capacitor

3 Amp Diode

20 Powerfilm RC flexible solar panels

I tried to keep everything as light as possible. The frame is carbon, the solar cells rest on Dollar Tree foam boards.

Each wing has 5 solar panels (7.2 volt / 100 Miliamp) arranged in parallel (7.2 volt / 500 Miliamp total)

I hooked 2 pair of wings in series (14.4 volt) then connected each pair in parallel (1000 Miliamp).

I placed a Diode to the end of the circuit to prevent the battery from feeding the solar array.

I connected the solar array in parallel to the battery so it could assist with the amps needed, then charge the battery a bit while sitting on the ground while I made adjustments.

I will continue to work on these experiments but from my initial research there is too much surface area on the solar array. Gains made in extra amps were diminished by the extra power required to keep the drone in place against the wind.


I landed the drone several times for tweaks and checkups. The solar cells really came into play then. It would charge the battery about 0.5 volts each time it landed (it sat in the sun about 15min).


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  • Hello I'm making a solar drone and I would like to use these model but I want this drone can carry materials like gas mask or something like that. Can anybody tell me how many kg this drone can carry if I add a mechanism under it?

  • I got myself the same cells to stick on top of a ranger 757 fixed wing. I was a bit disappointed by the little power they provided, though. I think I can fit 6 on the wing, 3 pairs of 14.4V. Good for 0,6 A under ideal conditions. The thing is: a little cloud or the sun going low drops the voltage on the cells awfully quick. 

    And the ranger sucks about 6Amps (75W) on cruise speed. The solar cells would provide 10% of that. So on a 45 minute flight (10Ah lipo), that's maybe five more minutes, tops. Not sure if that will be worth it. 

    I'm also having trouble flattening them. The are shipped rolled up. I can see on daniel's picture that the cells aren't neatly flat either....

    Is a diode really all you need to hook to hook 2 of those solar cells to an 11.4 LiPo? I'm measuring 10.5V on each cell so I tried having a DC/DC converter between the battery and the cells. But it went all weird as the cell voltage seems to change under load. I'm no electrical engineer so that confused me.

  • Genial ¡¡ esto es un adelanto en el tiempo.. y el futuro de la autonomia..

    Yo creo que para contrarestar el viento, las placas deberian de tener mucho espacio entre ellas, a modo de rejilla para disminuir el empuje del viento contra el diseño actual. Con un rediseño mas espaciado y rejillado, el viento no es gran problema..  

    Tambien se podría colocar los paneles en pequeñas torres cilindricas de unos 15cm con pequeños paneles circulares, o dispuestos en forma circular. 

    Saludos ¡

    Pedro Domecq

    Donostia - Spain

  • Attila, exactly! That was my idea for the search and rescue versions. I would create much smaller drones (3dr iris looking things) with a smaller, more efficient cell structure that molded into the main body. I would send them out to look for a missing person. They would fly a pattern, land when low on batteries, charge up, then resume their search. If I stagger their deployment they would in essence have eyes in the sky all "day lite" long.
  • Just curious. How long does it take to recharge with solar power? And how long does it fly with the current configuration?
    Thinking with human mind time is important, thinking from a robot's view finishing the mission is important. In theory a multi-rotor could fly autonomously across the continent even if it has to land every 10 minutes. Not sure if the winged drones could find optimal landing spots and could take off/land by themself.
  • I can see this turning into some kind of art exhibition...  make a landing platform incorporating solar panels that allows the quad to charge when it lands. Charge the quad, have it auto launch once battery is charged.. hover and auto land when it's low.. rinse, repeat... 

  • land en route, wait for someone to come over to it and unfold the panels?

    how much weight do you want to add?

  • Because it would have the ability to land en route to recharge and not have to return to home base.
  • folding the panels in flight then unfolding when on the ground completely invalidates the whole point of the idea.

    if they are to charge on the ground, why not have much higher efficiency panels stuck to your car roof or an umbrella,

  • Any power source added to an airframe must at least generate more power than it costs to hold the extra weight in the air to make sense. I do no have any data of this particular configuration to do the basic math but some estimates can be made. Assume the motor/prop combination has an efficiency of 10g/watt while in hover. The PV set thus needs to have a lower weight than 10g/watt. So the 14.4watt system must weigh in lower than 144 grams. Any weight above that and the actual flight time will be lower than without any solar panels.

    For the rest, a great idea. Just experiment to see what works.

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