April 3, 2016

Solar cluster: PicoPSU limitations

Of course, there’s always something there to throw a spanner in the works, and for me, it’s the PicoPSU.

It seems to work great, however, there is an Achilles heel with these things: they have a fairly narrow band of tolerable voltages they’ll operate at. Namely 10.5—13.5V.

Now, 10.5V is fair enough, but 13.5V? Typical lead acid batteries are 13.8V nominal voltage, and will get to 14.5V when charging. So I need some preregulator that will handle when the voltage is up around 13.5V or above, and drop it down just a little, passing through up to 2A (5A to be safe).

It still has to be stable when the current changes, “turned off” on these computers means a drain of about 200mA for the IPMI. So our operating parameters are summed up as 10.5—13.5V and 200mA—5A.

It needs to continue operating when the battery gets to ~11.5V.

So what are my options?

  • LM2576 simple switcher? 12V in will produce 10.5V out.
  • LM7812 has the same problem, and will chew more power.

A series regulator built on a zener/NPN might work. The voltage drop across the NPN ordinarily is going to be fairly low, however there will still be a drop of about 0.7V or so. That’s possibly “good enough”, since at 11.5V input, we should still see about 10.8V out which is within range.

Two diodes in series, with a relay to short them out when the voltage drops below 12V would work too. That’d need a comparator and voltage reference to drive the relay. It’s a cheap solution too.

Another prospect is a beefy DC-DC converter on the battery, so we don’t actually care what the battery voltage is, we boost it say to 15V then regulate it back down to 12V. A 30A-capable flyback or boost-buck converter would do it. This is more complex, and much more expensive to do off-the-shelf, so I think that’d be a method of last resort.