How Smart Is The Grid?

Marketing and advertising groups often have a tendency to capitalize on technological trends faster than engineers and users can settle into the technology itself. Perhaps it’s no surprise that it is difficult to hold back the motivation to get a product to market and profit. Right now the most glaring example is the practice of carelessly putting WiFi in appliances and toys and putting them on the Internet of Things, but there is a similar type of fiasco playing out in the electric power industry as well. Known as the “smart grid”, an effort is underway to modernize the electric power grid in much the same way that the Internet of Things seeks to modernize household appliances, but to much greater and immediate benefit.

A Cutler-Hammer industrial breaker ominously predicts the coming confusion in the smart grid arena.
Photo by Bryan Cockfield

To that end, if there’s anything in need of modernization it’s the electric grid. Often still extensively using technology that was pioneered in the 1800s like synchronous generators and transformers (not to mention metering and billing techniques that were perfected before the invention of the transistor), there is a lot of opportunity to add oversight and connectivity to almost every part of the grid from the power plant to the customer. Additionally, most modern grids are aging rapidly at the same time that we are asking them to carry more and more electricity. Modernization can also help the aging infrastructure become more efficient at delivering energy.

While the term “smart grid” is as nebulous and as ill-defined as “Internet of Things” (even the US Government’s definition is muddied and vague), the smart grid actually has a unifying purpose behind it and, so far, has been an extremely useful way to bring needed improvements to the power grid despite the lack of a cohesive definition. While there’s no single thing that suddenly transforms a grid into a smart grid, there are a lot of things going on at once that each improve the grid’s performance and status reporting ability.

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Design A Coil For A Specific Inductance

YouTuber [RimstarOrg], AKA Hackaday’s own [Steven Dufresne], shows how to make a DIY inductor for a specific inductance. This is obviously a great skill to learn as sometimes your design may call for a very accurate inductance that may be otherwise hard to find.

Making your own inductor may seem daunting. You will have to answer a few questions such as: “what type of core will I use?”, “how many turns does my coil need?”, or “how do I calculate these parameters to create the specific inductance I desire?”. [RimstarOrg] goes through all of this, and even has a handy inductance calculator on his website to make it easier for you. He also provides all the formulae needed to calculate the inductance in the video below.

Using a DIY AM Radio receiver, he demonstrates in a visual way how to tune an AM Radio with a wiper on his home-built coil. Changing the inductance with a wiper changes the frequency of the radio: this is a variable inductor,

This video is great for understanding the foundations of inductors. While you may just go to a supplier and buy yours, it’s always great to know how to build your own when you can’t find a supplier, or just can’t wait.

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Big Slew Bearings Can Be 3D Printed

Consider the humble ball bearing. Ubiquitous, useful, and presently annoying teachers the world over in the form of fidget spinners. One thing ball bearings aren’t is easily 3D printed. It’s hard to print a good sphere, but that doesn’t mean you can’t print your own slew bearings for fun and profit.

As [Christoph Laimer] explains, slew bearings consist of a series of cylindrical rollers alternately arranged at 90° angles around an inner and outer race, and are therefore more approachable to 3D printing. Slew bearings often find application in large, slowly rotating applications like crane platforms or the bearings between a wind turbine nacelle and tower. In the video below, [Christoph] walks us through his parametric design in Fusion 360; for those of us not well-versed in the app, it looks a little like magic. Thankfully he has provided both the CAD files and a selection of STLs for different size bearings.

[Christoph] is no stranger to complex 3D-printable designs, like his recent brushless DC motor or an older clock build. The clock is cool, but the bearings and motors really get us — we’ll need such designs to get to self-replicating machines.

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