Noor III Solar Tower of the Ouarzazate Power Station, at dusk. (Credit: Marc Lacoste)

The Future Of Energy Storage On Both Sides Of The Meter

That energy storage is a hot topic is hardly a surprise to anyone these days. Even so, energy storage can take a lot of different forms, some of which are more relevant to the utility provider (like grid-level storage), while others are relevant to business and home owners (e.g. whole-house storage), and yet other technologies live in this tense zone between utility and personal interest, such as (electric) vehicle-to-grid.

For utilities a lot of noise is being made about shiny new technologies, such as hydrogen-based storage, while home- and business owners are pondering on the benefits of relying solely on the utility’s generosity with feed-in tariffs, versus charging a big battery from the solar panels on the roof and using the produced power themselves. Ultimately the questions here are which technologies will indeed live up to their promises, and which a home owner may want to invest in.

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Custom Controller Ups Heat Pump Efficiency

Heat Pumps are an extremely efficient way to maintain climate control in a building. Unlike traditional air conditioners, heat pumps can also effectively work in reverse to warm a home in winter as well as cool it in summer; with up to five times the efficiency of energy use as a traditional electric heater. Even with those tremendous gains in performance, there are still some ways to improve on them as [Martin] shows us with some modifications he made to his heat pump system.

This specific heat pump is being employed not for climate control but for water heating, which sees similar improvements in efficiency over a standard water heater. The problem with [Martin]’s was that even then it was simply running much too often. After sleuthing the energy losses and trying a number of things including a one-way valve on the heating water plumbing to prevent siphoning, he eventually found that the heat pump was ramping up to maximum temperature once per day even if the water tank was already hot. By building a custom master controller for the heat pump which includes some timing relays, the heat pump only runs up to its maximum temperature once per week.

While there are some concerns with Legionnaire’s bacteria if the system is not maintained properly, this modification still meets all of Australia’s stringent building code requirements. His build is more of an investigative journey into a more complex piece of machinery, and his efforts net him a max energy usage of around 1 kWh per day which is 50% more efficient than it was when it was first installed. If you’re looking to investigate more into heat pumps, take a look at this DIY Arduino-controlled mini heat pump.

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Hackaday Links: January 16, 2022

As winter well and truly grips the northern hemisphere, it’s time once again to dunk on Tesla for leaving some owners out in the cold — literally. It seems that some Model 3 and Model Y owners are finding their ride’s heat pump isn’t exactly up to the task of, you know, pumping heat. That this seems to be happening mostly in the northeastern US and southern Canada, where a polar vortex is once again dominating the weather and driving temperatures down into the -30 °C (-22 °F) range, perhaps speaks more to the laws of thermodynamics than it does to the engineering of the Tesla climate control system. After all, if there’s not much heat outside the car, it’s hard to pump it inside. But then again, these are expensive machines, some of which have had extensive repairs to address this exact same issue when it cropped up last year. It seems to us that owners have a legitimate gripe with Tesla about this, and they may be getting some help from the Feds, who are taking an interest in the situation from a safety standpoint. After all, no heat likely means fogged up windows, and that’s hardly conducive to a safe trip. But hey, that’s what self-driving is for, right?

Much has been made of the dearth of engineering cameras on the James Webb Space Telescope, and the fact that we’ve been relying on animations to illustrate the dozens of deployments needed to unfurl the observatory and make it ready for its mission. Putting aside the fact that adding extra cameras to the spacecraft makes little sense since the interesting stuff was all happening on the side where the sun doesn’t shine, we did get treated to what was billed as “humanity’s last look at Webb” thanks to an engineering camera on the Ariane 5 rocket. But not so fast — an astrophotographer named Ethan Gone managed to spot the JWST as it transited to L2 the day after launch. Granted, the blip of light isn’t as spectacular as the Ariane shots, and it took a heck of a lot of astrophotography gear to do it, but it’s still thrilling to watch Webb moving gracefully through Orion.

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Being Green, It’s A Rich Man’s Game

It’s an old saying with an apocryphal origin: “May you live in interesting times“. We Brits are certainly living in interesting times at the moment, as a perfect storm of the pandemic, rising energy prices, global supply chain issues, and arguably the post-Brexit departure of EU-national truck drivers has given us shortages of everything from fresh vegetables in the supermarket to carbon dioxide for the food industry. Of particular concern is a shortage of automotive fuels at the filling station, and amid sometimes-aggressive queues for the pumps it’s reported that there’s a record uptick in Brits searching online for information about electric cars.

Nothing Like A Crisis To Make You Green

My VW Polo loaded for EMF 2018
How I miss my little car, here loaded for EMF 2018.

This sudden interest in lower-carbon motoring may be driven by the queues rather than a concern for the planet, but it’s certainly true that as a culture we should be making this move if we are to have a hope of reducing our CO2 production and meeting our climate goals. A whole slew of lifestyle changes will have to be made over the coming years of which our car choices are only a part. Back to those beleaguered Brits again, a series of environmental protests have caused major disruption on the motorway network round London, not protesting against the traffic but campaigning for better home insulation.

For reasons of personal circumstance rather than principle, earlier this year I gave my trusty VW Polo to an old-Volks-nut friend and now rely on a bicycle. Living where I do within reach of everything I need it hasn’t been as challenging as I expected it to be, and aside from saving a bit of cash I know my general fitness level has gone up. Though I have less need for a car now than I used to, I intend to find myself another vehicle in due course so that I can do silly things such as throwing a Hackaday village in the back and driving halfway across Europe to a hacker camp. With an awareness that whatever I choose should be as good for the planet as I can make it then, I’ve been cruising the used-car websites to see what I can find.

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Arduino Powered Heat Pump Controller Helps Warm Your Toes

Heat pump heating technology is starting to pop up more and more lately, as the technology becomes cheaper and public awareness and acceptance improves. Touted as a greener residential heating system, they are rapidly gaining popularity, at least in part due to various government green policies and tax breaks.

[Gonzho] has been busy the last few years working on his own Arduino Powered Open Source heat pump controller, and the project logs show some nice details of what it takes to start experimenting with heat pumps in general, if that’s your game. Or you could use this to give an old system a new lease of life with an Arduino brain transplant.

In essence they are very simple devices; some kind of refrigerant is passed through a source of heat, absorbing some of it, it then flows elsewhere, and is compressed, which increases its temperature, before that increased heat is lost where the increase in temperature is desired.

This heat source could be a river, a mass of pipes buried in the ground, or simply the air around you. The source and quality of the heat source as well as the desired system operating temperature dictate the overall efficiency, and with ground-source systems it’s even possible to dump excess heat directly into the ground and store it for when required later. This could be the result of a residential cooling system, or even directly sourced from a solar heated setup.

This heat pumping process is reversible, so it is possible to swap the hot and cold ends, just by flipping some valves, and turn your space heater into a space cooler. This whole process can trace its roots back to the super talented Scottish professor, William Cullen who in 1748 was the first person on record to demonstrate artificial refrigeration.

The power needed to run the compressor pump and control gear is usually electrically derived, at least in non-vehicular applications, but the total power required is significantly less than the effective heating (or cooling) power that results.

We’ve covered a few heat pump hacks before, like this guy who’s been heating his house geothermally for years, but not so many platforms designed for experimentation from the ground up.

The associated GitHub project provides the gerber files as well as the Arduino code, so you’ve got a great starting point for your own heat pumping builds.

Lowering The Electricity Bill By Mining Cryptocurrency

Wherever you are in the world, the chances are that a large portion of your utility bill is for heating. This was certainly the case for [Christian Haschek], who realized he can use a cryptocurrency mining rig to offset some of his heating costs.

[Christian]’s central ventilation and water heating is handled by a heat pump, which uses a lot of electricity, especially in the Austrian winter. When it draws in cool air, it first needs to heat it to the thermostat temperature before venting it to the house. Cryptocurrency mining rigs are also heavy electricity users, but they also produce a lot of heat, which can be used to preheat the air going to the heat pump. [Christian] had four older AMD R9 390 GPUs (equivalent to the Nvidia GeForce GTX 970) lying around, so he mounted them in a server case and piped the heat pump’s air intake through the case.

At the time he did the tests, earnings from mining were enough to cover half of his heating bill, even after paying for the mining rig’s electricity. That is not taking into account the electricity savings from the preheated air. He only shows the results of one evening, where it dropped his electricity usage from around 500Wh to below 250Wh. We would like to see the long-term results, and it would be an interesting challenge to build a model to calculate the true costs or savings, taking into account all the factors. For instance, it could be possible to save costs even if the mining rig itself is running at a slight loss.

Of course, this is not a new idea. A quick internet search yields several similar projects and even some commercial crypto mining space heaters. We do like the fact that [Christian] reused some hardware he already had and integrated it into his central heating rather than using it as a mobile unit.

When [Christian] isn’t building crypto heaters, he can be found flooding phishing scams with fake data, or tracking down corporate spies.

Peltier Device Experiments

Once an exotic component, solid state heat pumps or Peltier devices are now pretty mainstream. The idea is simple: put electricity through a Peltier device and one side gets hot while the other side gets cold. [DroneBot] recently posted a video showing how these cool — really cool — devices work. You can see the video, below.

Many things in physics are reversible, and the Peltier is no exception. The device is actually a form of thermocouple, and in a thermocouple a temperature difference causes a voltage difference. This is known as the Seebeck effect as opposed to the Peltier effect in which current flowing between voltage differences causes a temperature difference. It was known for many years, but wasn’t very practical until modern semiconductor materials arrived.

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