After two massive hurricanes impacted Puerto Rico three months ago, the island was left with extensive damage to its electrical infrastructure. Part of the problem was that the infrastructure was woefully inadequate to withstand a hurricane impact at all. It is possible to harden buildings and infrastructure against extreme weather, and a new plan to restore Puerto Rico’s power grid will address many of these changes that, frankly, should have been made long ago.
Among the upgrades to the power distribution system are improvements to SCADA systems. SCADA allows for remote monitoring and control of substations, switchgear, and other equipment which minimizes the need for crews to investigate problems and improves reliability. SCADA can also be used for automation on a large scale, in addition to the installation of other autonomous equipment meant to isolate faults and restore power quickly. The grid will get physical upgrades as well, including equipment like poles, wire, and substations that are designed and installed to a more rigorous standard in order to make them more wind- and flood-tolerant. Additional infrastructure will be placed underground as well, and a more aggressive tree trimming program will be put in place.
The plan also calls for some 21st-century improvements as well, including the implementation of “micro grids”. These micro grids reduce the power system’s reliance on centralized power plants by placing small generation facilities (generators, rooftop solar, etc) in critical areas, like at hospitals. Micro grids can also be used in remote areas to improve reliability where it is often impractical or uneconomical to service.
While hurricanes are inevitable in certain parts of the world, the damage that they cause is often exacerbated by poor design and bad planning. Especially in the mysterious world of power generation and distribution, a robust infrastructure is extremely important for the health, safety, and well-being of the people who rely on it. Hopefully these steps will improve Puerto Rico’s situation, especially since this won’t be the last time a major storm impacts the island.
After a disaster hits, one obvious concern is getting everyone’s power restored. Even if the power plants are operational after something like a hurricane or earthquake, often the power lines that deliver that energy are destroyed. While the power company works to rebuild their infrastructure, [David Ngheim]’s mobile, rapid deployment power station can help get people back on their feet quickly. As a bonus, it uses renewable energy sources for power generation.
The modular power station was already tested at Burning Man, providing power to around 100 people. Using sets of 250 Watt panels, wind turbines, and scalable battery banks, the units all snap together like Lego and can fit inside a standard container truck or even the back of a pickup for smaller sizes. The whole thing is plug-and-play and outputs AC thanks to inverters that also ship with the units.
With all of the natural disasters we’ve seen lately, from Texas to Puerto Rico to California, this entry into the Hackaday Prize will surely gain some traction as many areas struggle to rebuild their homes and communities. With this tool under a government’s belt, restoration of power at least can be greatly simplified and hastened.
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.
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.
When you think of living off the grid, you often think of solar power. But if you’ve got a good head, and enough flow, water power can provide a much more consistent flow of electrons. All it requires is a little bit of engineering, epic amounts of manual labor, and some tricks of the trade, and you’ll have your own miniature hydroelectric power plant.
[Homo Ludens], the playful ape, has what looks like a fantastic self-sufficient home/cabin in a beautiful part of Chile. His webpages are a tremendous diary of DIY, but the microhydro plant stands out.
You might expect that building a hydro plant involves a lot of piping, and trenching to lie that pipe in, but the exact extent, documented in many photos, is sobering. At places, the pipe needed to be bent, and [Homo Ludens] built a wire-mesh pipe heater to facilitate the work — with the help of a few friends to weigh the pipe down at either end and create the bend. The self-wound power transformer is also a beauty.
Because the Arduino is in such high demand for producing multiple musical tones at the same time; [Jeremy Blum] has successfully figured out the math and other necessaries that will take your once previously single tone producing MCU and turn it into a 5 tone producing machine. unsurprisingly its really just some creative use of PWM control but it all works out in the end anyway and helps prevent you from purchasing additional sound generating chips. This truly does open up some new doors, as [Jeremy] shows with his still in production thingamakit like project: ReacXion.
[MicroMinded] took us way back to our childhoods with his experiments and subsequent YMstream music player based on the Yamaha YM2149 sound generator used in old arcade systems, computers, and even phones (thinkchiptune). This reminds us of the Chipophone, only this time the sound is achieved from ICs used back in the day, rather than MCU waveforms.
There is still some work to be done to make the music player have a bit more functionality, but for now source is available if you want to make your own. Of course you might come across a small problem; finding an SSG is a tad bit more difficult than say, an Arduino. If a good resource is found, please share it in the comments!
[Thank you Andrew Kretschmer for sending in the chiptune mp3s]