Vehicle-to-Grid Made Easy

As electric cars continue to see increased adoption, one associated technology that was touted long ago that still hasn’t seen widespread adoption is vehicle-to-grid or vehicle-to-home. Since most cars are parked most of the time, this would allow the cars to perform load-levelling for the grid or even act as emergency generators on an individual basis when needed. While this hasn’t panned out for a variety of reasons, it is still possible to use an EV battery for use off-grid or as part of a grid tie solar system, and now you can do it without needing to disassemble the battery packs at all.

Normally when attempting to use a scrapped EV battery for another use, the cells would be removed from the OEM pack and reorganized to a specific voltage. This build, however, eliminates the need to modify the packs at all. A LilyGO ESP32 is used to convert the CAN bus messages from the battery pack to the Modbus communications protocol used by the inverters, in this case a Fronius Gen24, so the inverter and battery can coordinate energy delivery from one to the other automatically. With the hard part out of the way, the only other requirements are to connect a high voltage DC cable from the battery pack to the inverter.

[Dala], the creator of this project, has taken other steps to ensure safety as well that we’d recommend anyone attempting to recreate this build pays close attention to, as these battery packs contain an extremely large amount of energy. The system itself supports battery packs from Nissan Leafs as well as the Tesla Model 3, which can usually be found for comparably low prices. Building battery energy storage systems to make up for the lack of commercially-available vehicle-to-home systems isn’t the only use for an old EV battery, though. For example, it’s possible to use Leaf batteries to triple the range of other EVs like [Muxsan] did with this Nissan van.

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New Renewable Energy Projects Are Overwhelming US Grids

It’s been clear for a long time that the world has to move away from fossil energy sources. Decades ago, this seemed impractical, when renewable energy was hugely expensive, and we were yet to see much impact on the ground from climate change. Meanwhile, prices for solar and wind installations have come down immensely, which helps a lot.

However, there’s a new problem. Power grids across the US simply can’t keep up with the rapid pace of new renewable installations. It’s a frustrating issue, but not an insurmountable one.

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A Homemade Tube Amplifier Featuring Homemade Tubes

With the wealth of cheap and highly integrated audio amplifier modules on the market today, it takes a special dedication to roll your own from parts. Especially when those parts include vacuum tubes, and doubly so when you make the vacuum tubes from scratch too.

Now, we get it — some readers are going to find it hard to invest an hour in watching [jdflyback] make a pair of triodes to build his amplifier. But really, you’ve got to check this out. Making vacuum tubes with all the proper equipment — glassblower’s lathe, various kinds of oxy-fuel torches, all the right hand tools — is hard enough. But when your lathe is a cordless drill, and you’re using a spot welder that looks like it’s cobbled together from junk, your tube-making game gets a lot harder. Given all that, you’d expect the tubes to look a lot rougher than they are, but even with plain tungsten wire heaters and grids made from thick copper wire, they actually work pretty well. Sure, the heaters glow as bright as light bulbs, but that’s all part of the charm.

Speaking of charm, we just love the amp these tubes went into. Built in 1920s breadboard-style, the features some beautiful vintage mica capacitors and wirewound resistors, plus a variable resistor the likes of which we’ve never seen. The one nod to modernity is the clever use of doorbell transformers, one for a choke and one for the speaker transformer. They don’t sound great, but there’s no doubt they work.

We may have seen other homemade vacuum tubes before — we even recently featured a DIY X-ray tube — but there’s something about [jdflyback]’s tubes that really gets us going.

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A Look Inside An Old-School Synchroscope

There’s nothing quite like old-school electrical gear, especially the stuff associated with power distribution. There’s something about the chunky, heavy construction, the thick bakelite cases, and the dials you can read from across the room. Double points for something that started life behind the Iron Curtain, as this delightful synchroscope appears to have.

So what exactly is a synchroscope, you ask? As [DiodeGoneWild] explains (in the best accent a human being has ever had), synchroscopes are used to indicate when two AC power sources are in phase with each other. This is important in power generation and distribution, where it just wouldn’t be a good idea to just connect a freshly started generator to a stable power grid. This synchroscope has a wonderfully robust mechanism inside, with four drive coils located 90° apart on a circular stator. Inside that is a moving coil attached to the meter’s needle, which makes this an induction motor that stops turning when the two input currents are in phase with each other.

The meter is chock full of engineering goodies, like the magnetic brake that damps the needle, and the neat inductive coupling method used to provide current to the moving coil. [DiodeGoneWild] does a great job explaining how the meter works, and does a few basic tests that show us the 60-odd years since this thing was made haven’t caused any major damage. We’re eager to see it put to the full test soon.

This is just the latest in a series of cool teardowns by [DiodeGoneWild]. He recently treated us to a glimpse inside an old-ish wattmeter, and took a look at friggin’ laser-powered headlights, too.

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Hackaday Links: May 8, 2022

Russia’s loose cannon of a space boss is sending mixed messages about the future of the International Space Station. Among the conflicting statements from Director-General Dmitry Rogozin, the Roscosmos version of Eric Cartman, is that “the decision has been made” to pull out of the ISS over international sanctions on Russia thanks to its war on Ukraine. But exactly when would this happen? Good question. Rogozin said the agency would honor its commitment to give a year’s notice before pulling out, which based on the current 2024 end-of-mission projections, means we might hear something definitive sometime next year. Then again, Rogozin also said last week that Roscosmos would be testing a one-orbit rendezvous technique with the ISS in 2023 or 2024; it currently takes a Soyuz about four orbits to catch up to the ISS. So which is it? Your guess is as good as anyones at this point.

At what point does falsifying test data on your products stop being a “pattern of malfeasance” and become just the company culture? Apparently, something other than the 40 years that Mitsubishi Electric has allegedly been doctoring test results on some of their transformers. The company has confessed to the testing issue, and also to “improper design” of the transformers, going back to the 1980s and covering about 40% of the roughly 8,400 transformers it made and shipped worldwide. The tests that were falsified were to see if the transformers could hold up thermally and withstand overvoltage conditions. The good news is, unless you’re a power systems engineer, these aren’t transformers you’d use in any of your designs — they’re multi-ton, multi-story beasts that run the grid. The bad news is, they’re the kind of transformers used to run the grid, so nobody’s stuff will work if one of these fails. There’s no indication whether any of the sketchy units have failed, but the company is “considering” contacting owners and making any repairs that are necessary.

For your viewing pleasure, you might want to catch the upcoming documentary series called “A League of Extraordinary Makers.” The five-part series seeks to explain the maker movement to the world, and features quite a few of the luminaries of our culture, including Anouk Wipprecht, Bunnie Huang, Jimmy DiResta, and the gang at Makers Asylum in Mumbai, which we assume would include Anool Mahidharia. It looks like the series will focus on the real-world impact of hacking, like the oxygen concentrators hacked up by Makers Asylum for COVID-19 response, and the influence the movement has had on the wider culture. Judging by the trailer below, it looks pretty interesting. Seems like it’ll be released on YouTube as well as other channels this weekend, so check it out.

But, if you’re looking for something to watch that doesn’t require as much commitment, you might want to check out this look at the crawler-transporter that NASA uses to move rockets to the launch pad. We’ve all probably seen these massive beasts before, moving at a snail’s pace along a gravel path with a couple of billion dollars worth of rocket stacked up and teetering precariously on top. What’s really cool is that these things are about as old as the Space Race itself, and still going strong. We suppose it’s easier to make a vehicle last almost 60 years when you only ever drive it at half a normal walking speed.

And finally, if you’re wondering what your outdoor cat gets up to when you’re not around — actually, strike that; it’s usually pretty obvious what they’ve been up to by the “presents” they bring home to you. But if you’re curious about the impact your murder floof is having on the local ecosystem, this Norwegian study of the “catscape” should be right up your alley. They GPS-tagged 92 outdoor cats — which they dryly but hilariously describe as “non-feral and food-subsidized” — and created maps of both the ranges of individual animals, plus a “population-level utilization distribution,” which we think is a euphemism for “kill zone.” Surprisingly, the population studied spent almost 80% of their time within 50 meters of home, which makes sense — after all, they know where those food subsidies are coming from.

Cascade Failures, Computer Problems, And Ohms Law: Understanding The Northeast Blackout Of 2003

We’ve all experienced power outages of some kind, be it a breaker tripping at an inconvenient time to a storm causing a lack of separation between a tree and a power line. The impact is generally localized and rarely is there a loss of life, though it can happen. But in the video below the break, [Grady] of Practical Engineering breaks down the Northeast Blackout of 2003, the largest power failure ever experienced in North America. Power was out for days in some cases, and almost 100 deaths were attributed to the loss of electricity.

[Grady] goes into a good amount of detail regarding the monitoring systems, software simulation, and contingency planning that goes into operating a large scale power grid. The video explains how inductive loads cause reactance and how the effect exacerbated an already complex problem. Don’t know what inductive loads and reactance are? That’s okay, the video explains it quite well, and it gives an excellent basis for understanding AC electronics and even RF electronic theories surrounding inductance, capacitance, and reactance.

So, what caused the actual outage? The complex cascade failure is explained step by step, and the video is certainly worth the watch, even if you’re already familiar with the event.

It would be irresponsible to bring up the 2003 outage without talking about the Texas ERCOT outages just one year ago– an article whose comments section nearly caused a blackout at the Hackaday Data Center!

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Live Energy Monitor Helps Plan Power-Hungry Appliance Use

There are a lot of good reasons to have a better understanding of one’s household power use, and that is especially true for those that do their own solar power collection. For example, [Frederick] determined that it would be more efficient to use large appliances (like a dishwasher or washing machine) when there was excess solar power available, but the challenge was in accessing the right data in a convenient way. His Raspberry Pi-based live energy monitor was the solution, because it uses an LED matrix to display live energy data that can be consulted at a glance.

Interestingly, this project isn’t about hacking the power meter. What this project is really about is conveniently accessing that data when and where it is best needed. [Frederick] has a digital power and gas meter with the ability to accept a small wireless dongle. That dongle allows a mobile phone app to monitor power usage, including whether power is being taken from or exported to the grid.

Since [Frederick] didn’t want to have to constantly consult his mobile phone, a Raspberry Pi using a Pimoroni Unicorn HAT HD acts as a glanceable display. His Python script polls the power meter directly over WiFi, then creates a live display of power usage: one LED for every 250 W of power, with the top half of the display being power used, and the bottom half representing power exported to the grid. Now the decision of when to turn on which appliances for maximum efficiency is much easier, not by automating the appliances themselves, but simply by displaying data where it needs to be seen. (This kind of thing, incidentally, is exactly the idea behind the Rethink Displays challenge of the 2021 Hackaday Prize.)

As for those of us without a digital power meter that makes it easy for residents to access power data? It turns out there is no reason a power meter’s wireless service interface can’t be sniffed with RTL-SDR.