We had a bunch of old non-functioning solar panels lying around so came up with an idea to up cycle them into a large opening wall system where the panels swivel like shutters. The main reason was that we needed to allow air to pass through this section of wall during high winds so that the forces acting upon the treehouse would be less (and it wouldn’t come crashing down in the next storm.
The design was pretty simple. We needed a means of fixing the solar panels to the sides of a simple rectangular wooden frame (which would be placed as one wall section) so that they could pivot over each other, overlapping in their downwards position thus creating a system of shutters.
First wooden pieces – which we routed a 1cm deep groove into – were attached to either side of the solar panels (by slotting the panels into the grooves and gluing them overnight). As the solar panels were pretty flexible and fragile, we also fixed some longer wooden pieces along their length to strengthen them.
Now we had a structure from which we could fix the solar panels into our frame. We used thick nails as the pivots and simply passed the nails through a slightly wider hole in the frame and then hammered them into the wooden pieces on the sides of the solar panels. With each solar panel element now pivoting on nails we then assembled each of them until they overlap.
It’s worth noting that we placed our pivot points slightly below centre so that (theoretically) they would naturally rotate due to gravity and open automatically in high winds. We haven’t had a chance to test it yet.
The final step was to connect all the elements together by setting them to the same height and fixing thin wooden strips on either side, effectively connecting them into one piece. Now they all moved as one system. We mounted a pulley and counterweight up to the interior ceiling for ease of opening, it was pretty damn heavy!
We had some problems with using nails as our pivots as they seemed to bend a little over time. A better means of creating a pivot point would be to use small thicker metal or stainless steel bars which are stronger and allow better movement.
Although our solar panels were up cycled and not actually functioning, making a system like this with working panels could be a great way to address the problem of wind catch and ventilation whilst also generating power.
We’re still wondering what else we can do with the rest of our broken solar panels…