Watt Meter build walks you through Power Measurement basics

You almost never hear of a DC Watt Meter – one just does some mental math with Volts and Amps at the back of one’s head. An AC Watt Meter, on the other hand, can by pretty useful on any workbench. This handy DIY Digital AC Watt Meter not only has an impressive 30A current range, but is designed in a hand-held form factor, making it easy to carry around.

The design from Electro-Labs provides build instructions for the hardware, as well as the software for the PIC micro-controller at its heart. A detailed description walks you through the schematic’s various blocks, and there’s also some basics of AC power measurement thrown in for good measure. The schematic and board layout are done using SolaPCB – a Windows only free EDA tool which we haven’t heard about until now. A full BoM and the PIC code round off the build. On the hardware side, the unit uses MCP3202 12 bit ADC converters with SPI interface, making it easy to hook them up to the micro-controller. A simple resistive divider for voltage and an ACS-712  Hall Effect-Based Linear Current Sensor IC are the main sense elements. Phase calculations are done by the micro-controller. The importance of isolation is not overlooked, using opto-isolators to keep the digital section away from the analog. The board outline looks like it has been designed to fit some off-the-shelf hand-held plastic enclosure (if you can’t find one, whip one up from a 3D printer).

Although the design is for 230V~250V range, it can easily be modified for 110V use by changing a few parts. Swap the transformer, change the Resistive voltage divider values, maybe some DC level shifting, and you’re good to go. The one feature that would be a nice upgrade to this meter would be Energy measurements, besides just Power. For an inside look at how traditional energy meters work, head over to this video where [Ben Krasnow] explains KiloWatt Hour Meters


Reading Power Use Data with a Webcam and Python

As any hacker will attest to, whenever an important tool is missing, you might as well just build a new one! That’s the position that [Matt] found himself in when he was attempting to measure the power consumption at his parents’ house. He left the transmitter for the power meter at home, and so the logical thing to do was to set up a webcam and a python script to monitor his dad’s power meter instead of going back to get his.

The power meter that he had handy was a GEO Minim Electricity Monitor. He found it very difficult to extract the data directly from this particular meter, so instead of digging into any of the communications protocols int he meter, he set up a webcam in a box with an LED and monitored it with a specially-written Python script. The script is able to see the particulars of the meter, and then reports back to the computer with all of the relevant data. [Matt] has put this code up on his project site for anyone to use.

This is a great workaround that doesn’t involve delving too deep into the inner workings of the meter in question. You could always build your own power monitoring system though, if that’s more of your style!

Digital Data from a Cheap Power Meter

Power meters like the Kill-A-Watt are great for keeping track of energy usage, and are also very hackable. The Kill-a-Watt in particular puts out analog signals proportional to current and voltage, which makes it easy to interface with a microcontroller.

Although reading analog voltages is easy enough, [Kalle] found a cheap Chinese power meter that is even more hackable. These inexpensive power meters cost about the same as a first-generation Kill-a-Watt, but they directly stream out digital data. The power meter [Kalle] hacked has a non-US plug, but the meter is available from the usual suppliers (eBay, Aliexpress, etc) with a 3-prong US plug and 120v rating.

After breaking out a logic analyzer, [Kalle] discovered that the meter constantly streams voltage, current, and power data from the measurement board to the display board on a SPI-like bus. The ribbon cable inside the meter even has the clock and data bus lines clearly labelled. [Kalle] went on to reverse-engineer the protocol and write an Arduino sketch that parses the stream, making it even easier to integrate this meter into your next power monitoring project.

Electricity Monitoring with a Light-to-Voltage Sensor, MQTT and some Duct Tape


When it comes down to energy management, having real-time data is key. But rarely is up-to-the-minute kilowatt hour information given out freely by a Utility company, which makes it extremely hard to adjust spending habits during the billing cycle. So when we heard about [Jon]’s project to translate light signals radiating out of his meter, we had to check it out.

From the looks of it, his hardware configuration is relatively simple. All it uses is a TSL261 Light-to-Voltage sensor connected to an Arduino with an Ethernet shield attached. The sensor is then taped above the meter’s flashing LED, which flickers whenever a pulse is sent out indicating every time a watt of electricity is used. His configuration is specific to the type of meter that was installed by his Utility, and there is no guarantee that all the meters deployed by that company are the same. But it is a good start towards a better energy monitoring solution.

And the entire process is documented on [Jon]’s website, allowing for more energy-curious people to see what it took to get it all hooked up. In it, he describes how to get started with MQTT, which is a machine-to-machine (M2M)/”Internet of Things” connectivity protocol, to produce a real-time graph, streaming data in from a live feed.

Continue reading “Electricity Monitoring with a Light-to-Voltage Sensor, MQTT and some Duct Tape”

The Energy Detective TED 5000-G teardown

Ted 5000-G Teardown

Before [Steve] realized that it didn’t play nice with his network, he dismantled his Energy Detective TED 5000-G to see what made the device tick. He put together a nice teardown with high-res pictures throughout.  Each component of the TED 5000-G is dissected, with the exception of the current transformers, which he claims are pretty boring anyhow.  The gateway module is particularly interesting as it contains both an Ethernet interface as well as a 802.15.4 radio for wireless communications.  While the device is still a bit expensive at the moment, the gateway module could be useful in projects requiring PLC or ZigBee communications some time down the road, once prices ease a little.

Home power monitoring


Reader [john] finished up his home power monitor over the holiday weekend. It uses a pair of current transducers clamped onto the mains. These output 0-3V and are read by the Arduino’s ADC. The Arduino averages samples over a 20 second period, calculates power used, and uploads it using an Ethernet Shield. The shield can’t do DNS lookups, so he uses a WRT54G to negotiate with the remote webserver. He admits that the system could be more accurate; it can’t detect small loads like wall warts. He also says that money could be saved by talking serial to the router instead of over ethernet. Here are the current usage charts.

You can find many power monitor projects like this in out Home Hacks category.

Wattcher, twittering Kill A Watt plans posted


You probably saw [Phillip Torrone] and [Limor Fried]’s twittering Kill A Watt earlier this week. It was an entry in the Core77/Greener Gadgets Design Competition. We saw a little bit about how it was assembled, but now they’ve posted a full guide to assembling the hardware. Each Kill A Watt gets an XBee radio that transmits back to a receiver that logs the power usage. The difficult part when putting this design together was the XBee required 50mA when transmitting. This is well above the Kill A Watt’s internal power supply. They remedied this by adding a 10,000uF supercap to act as a rechargeable battery. The daily twittering is just a side-effect of the project. The Kill A Watts transmit every 2 seconds, so you’ll get a very accurate report of your power usage. This is a great project for renters who can’t permanently modify their power infrastructure. Each Kill A Watt can support quite a few appliances since they’re rated for 15A, ~1800W.