Solar Panel System Monitoring Device Using Arduino

[Carl] recently upgraded his home with a solar panel system. This system compliments the electricity he gets from the grid by filling up a battery bank using free (as in beer) energy from the sun. The system came with a basic meter which really only shows the total amount of electricity the panels produce. [Carl] wanted to get more data out of his system. He managed to build his own monitor using an Arduino.

The trick of this build has to do with how the system works. The panel includes an LED light that blinks 1000 times for each kWh of electricity. [Carl] realized that if he could monitor the rate at which the LED is flashing, he could determine approximately how much energy is being generated at any given moment. We’ve seen similar projects in the past.

Like most people new to a technology, [Carl] built his project up by cobbling together other examples he found online. He started off by using a sketch that was originally designed to calculate the speed of a vehicle by measuring the time it took for the vehicle to pass between two points. [Carl] took this code and modified it to use a single photo resistor to detect the LED. He also built a sort of VU meter using several LEDs. The meter would increase and decrease proportionally to the reading on the electrical meter.

[Carl] continued improving on his system over time. He added an LCD panel so he could not only see the exact current measurement, but also the top measurement from the day. He put all of the electronics in a plastic tub and used a ribbon cable to move the LCD panel to a more convenient location. He also had his friend [Andy] clean up the Arduino code to make it easier for others to use as desired.

Electricity Usage Monitor is Linked to Google Spreadsheets

If you want to make your home more energy-efficient, chances are you will need a way to monitor your electricity usage over time. There are off-the-shelf solutions for this of course, but hackers like us tend to do things our own way. Take [Karl] for example. He recently built himself a solution with only a few smart components. We’ve seen similar projects in the past, but none quite like this.

[Karl’s] home has a power meter that blinks an LED to indicate the current amount of used electricity in Watt-hours. He knew all he needed was a way to electronically detect the blinking LED and he’d be able to accurately track his usage without modifying the meter.

The primary components used in this project were a CC3200 development kit and a photoresistor module. The dev kit contained a WiFi module built-in, which allows the system to upload data to Google spreadsheets as well as sync the built-in clock with an accurate time source. The photoresistor module is used to actually detect the blinking LED on the power meter. Everything else is done easily with code on the dev kit.

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.

Hackaday Video: Safe Area Operation for Components (and Helicopters)

We’re back and this time talking about Safe Operating Area also called Safe Area Operation (SAO) which is short for the combination of things that can conspire to ruin your design. We also talk about helicopters.

Why take all of this time to discuss SAO you might ask, and what is that business about helicopters? Depending on the design there may be quite a bit of tedious math involved and sometimes there is just no avoiding it. Alternatively if you can get a feel for when math is and is not critical (based on design choices), it should be easier to get your next project up and running while still obeying the rules of the road.

Continue reading “Hackaday Video: Safe Area Operation for Components (and Helicopters)”

Auto off for any circuit

autooff

Properly configured, your computer will go into sleep mode when left unattended for a long enough time. So will your cell phone, and just about every other piece of sufficiently complex electronics. Much simpler circuits, though, are left at the mercy of a SPST switch; if you forget to turn a flashlight off, it will be dead next time you need to use it. Wanting an auto-off circuit simple electronics, [Kyle] threw together this auto shutoff circuit.

The basic idea behind the cirucuit is to use a microcontroller as a timer controlling two transistors. When [Kyle]’s circuit is power cycled, the timer inside an AVR starts, making a pin high, and when the timer is up, making the pin low again. This pin feeds into a PNP transistor which is in turn connected to a NPN transistor, creating a very tiny auto off circuit for anything with an SPST switch.

[Kyle] says there are a few improvements to be made – using MOSFETS to handle higher currents and possibly using a smaller microntroller like an ATtiny 4/5/9/10 to shrink the circuit’s volume. It’s a great idea, bringing the idea of a flashlight with auto shutoff into reality.

Test your project’s mettle with a protected dummy load

For a power hungry project the supply is sometimes a pretty big unknown. Whether stapling together a few different power supplies to meet a current requirement, or designing a system from the ground up: a big power supply can be quite a dangerous thing. It helps to have some kind of a dummy load to really shake down the electronics and get an idea of how hot things get or test stability before trusting the supply to run your stuff. [Paulo Oliveira] has constructed just such a thing, a slick looking adjustable constant current load.

Following the popular LM324 circuit from [David Jones] at EEVblog [Paulo] decided to make use of the two spare op-amps to provide both a thermal overload and a cooling fan circuit. We have seen other tweaks to [David]’s circuit in the past but through some resistors and MOSFETs [Paulo] can now load up to 7A (limited by resistor wattage). We would have used a really crazy server vacuum fan to make it genuinely frightening to push heavier loads. Thanks [Paulo]!

Automatic speaker control via TV

[Jon] wanted his speakers to come on and off along with his TV. The speaker heats up if left on so he didn’t want to do that. But killing the power also resets the volume level (this is an old set of PC speakers and the remote is wired, not IR) so using one of those switched power strips was out as well. He thought a bit about trying to use the power LED on the TV to build his own circuit when it dawned on him. It’s possible to monitor the USB port on the TV and use it to switch on the speakers.

The circuit above uses a couple of opto-isolators to protect both the television and the speakers. The 5V line from the USB port on the back of the TV is monitored by an XNOR gate (which helps to filter out some of the toggling at power-on). When that gate latches it activates a 555 timer which in turn fires up the speakers. Presumable this happens when power is cut as well, but we’ll let you work through the circuit logic yourself.