Hackaday Prize Entry: Real Time Power Monitoring

The Internet of Things promises real-time monitoring of appliances, HVAC, and just about everything else in the home. One of the biggest technologies behind this is the smart meter, an electrical meter that will tell you how much power you’re sucking down from the grid at any given moment. A meter need not be smart, though, because [jlbrian7]’s entry for the Hackaday Prize does the same thing without an entirely new meter.

[jlbrian]’s power monitor is a non-intrusive monitor for electrical systems, allowing anyone to retrofit an electrical meter – or just a single breaker panel – with smart meter tech. It uses a small current transformer to monitor the amperage running through a wire. By sending that information to the Internet, anyone with this system gets power monitoring with much higher temporal resolution than what the power company provides in a monthly bill.

As a nice little addition to his Power Monitor, [jlbrian] is adding a few environmental sensors to his data logging platform. This allows for a little bit of interpolation to figure out what all that power is actually being used for; if the power turns on and a few minutes later the temperature drops, there’s a pretty good chance the AC just went on.

The 2015 Hackaday Prize is sponsored by:

Hackaday Prize Entry: A Very Small Power Grid

If it hasn’t been made readily apparent to you by now, power grids are astonishing marvels of technology and quite possibly one of the greatest engineering feats of history. Learning how these systems work is easy in theory, but in practice you will be shot if you try to screw around with at a power station. [Tim] and [Marissa] figured there must be an easier way to learn about power grids so they made their own. It’s small, but it still has everything you’d find in high voltage power lines, minus a hundred kilovolts or so.

This mockup of a power grid simulates a power plant by taking a normal DC motor and connecting that to an alternator and transformer. This is two of the simulated generation points, with the third AC/AC power supply serving as a reference generator for synchronizing phase and frequency. It’s only 12V at 60Hz, but it gets the job done.

A power grid isn’t power plants – there’s also transmission line theory. For this, [Tim] and [Marissa] have a few boards packed with inductors to simulate power lines. There are boards for simulated loads, and synchronization systems built on the MSP430.

In the video below, [Marissa] goes over all the ins and out of the system. It’s very well made and excellent for teaching something that can’t be demonstrated without a practical example.

The 2015 Hackaday Prize is sponsored by:

Continue reading “Hackaday Prize Entry: A Very Small Power Grid”

A Pedal Powered Cinema

When the apocalypse hits and your power goes out, how are you going to keep yourself entertained? If you are lucky enough to be friends with [stopsendingmejunk], you can just hop on his pedal powered cinema and watch whatever movies you have stored on digital media.

This unit is built around an ordinary bicycle. A friction drive is used to generate the electricity via pedal power. In order to accomplish this, a custom steel stand was fabricated together in order to lift the rear wheel off the ground. A 24V 200W motor is used as the generator. [stopsendingmejunk] manufactured a custom spindle for the motor shaft. The spindle is made from a skateboard wheel. The motor is mounted in such a way that it can be lowered to rub the skateboard wheel against the bicycle wheel. This way when the rear bicycle wheel spins, it also rotates the motor. The motor can be lifted out of the way when cruising around if desired.

The power generated from the motor first runs through a regulator. This takes the variable voltage from the generator and smooths it out to a nice even power signal. This regulated power then charges two Goal Zero Sherpa 100 lithium batteries. The batteries allow for a buffer to allow the movie to continue playing while changing riders. The batteries then power the Optomo 750 projector as well as a set of speakers.

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)”