Once upon a time, the consensus was that renewable energy was too expensive and in too sparse supply to be a viable power source to run our proud, electrified societies on. Since then, prices of solar panels have tanked, becoming more efficient along the way, and homeowners have been installing them on their rooftops in droves.
Where once it was thought we’d never have enough solar energy, in some cities, it’s becoming all too much. In South Australia, where solar output can be huge on a sunny day, electricity authorities are facing problems with grid stability, and are taking measures to limit solar output to the grid.
Isn’t More Usually Better?
The problem faced by South Australian utilities is one of how to properly control an electrical grid with many thousands of distributed power sources. Typically, in conventional modern power grids, voltage and frequency is controlled within set limits by carefully matching the supply from major power plants with the demand from users. Fast-response plants can be brought online to meet shortfalls, and switched off when demand drops, and everything hums along nicely.
Unfortunately, solar power isn’t so easy to throttle, and even less so when it’s coming from thousands of separate households each with their own rooftop install and an inverter to feed back into the grid. This has led to authorities contemplating measures such as charging homeowners to export energy to the grid in peak periods in an effort to slow the huge uptake of home solar systems. Export limits have also been proposed for suburbs with the highest concentration of home solar, as substations in certain residential areas struggle to cope under the huge inflows of energy. Continue reading “South Australia Vs. Too Much Home Solar”
[Robert Murray-Smith] doesn’t like the price of inverters to convert DC to AC. That led him to build a dynamotor, or what is sometimes called a motor-generator set. These devices are just DC motors driving a generator. Of course, motors can also be used as generators and [Robert] had a stack of brushless motors in the form of PC fans. A two-fan dynamotor was born.
The brushless motors are attractive because, traditionally, the brushes are what usually fail on a dynamotor. The fan that will act as a generator needs some surgery, but it is simple. He scraped off all the control electronics and connected wires to the coils to form a three-phase generator. There’s no need for the fan blades in that configuration, either. If you were using ordinary motors and a generator, getting shafts concentric would be an important task. With the fans, it is simple to just line up the mounting holes and you get perfect alignment for free.
How does it work? [Robert] has a second video showing the output on a scope. You can see both videos below. The dynamotor makes a good-looking sine wave, probably much better than most reasonable-priced solid state inverters. He didn’t mention how much current he could successfully draw, but it probably isn’t much. You’d also need a transformer to replace a commercial inverter that would put out line voltage, so that would be some more loos in the system. On the other hand, if you wanted AC at a lower voltage, you might just replace all the transformers, if you were building a piece of gear yourself.
We’ve looked at how these things work in some detail. There were common in old tube radios, particularly military ones.
Continue reading “The Dynamotor Simplified”
Those of us who work on the road have a constant dread of being stuck somewhere without power, facing a race between a publication deadline and a fast-failing laptop battery. We’re extremely fortunate then to live in an age in which a cheap, lightweight, and efficient solid-state switch-mode inverter can give us mains power from a car cigarette lighter socket and save the day. Before these inverters came much heavier devices whose transistors switched at the 50Hz line speed, and before them came electromechanical devices such as the rotary converter or the vibrating reed inverter. It’s this last type that [Robert Murray-Smith] has taken a look at, making what he positions as the simplest inverter that it’s possible.
If you’ve ever played with relays, you’ll probably be aware that a relay can be wired as a buzzer, and it’s this property that a vibrating reed inverter harnesses. He takes an octal relay and wires it up with a small mains transformer for an immediate and very cheap inverter. It’s not perfect, as he points out the frequency isn’t right. The relay will eventually wear out unless the arcing problem is improved with the addition of a capacitor. But it does make a rough and ready inverter if you find yourself in a MacGyver-style tight spot with only your junk box for salvation.
If inverters pique your interest, it might benefit you to know how they work.
Continue reading “The Vibrating Reed Inverter: Possibly The Simplest Inverter You Can Make”
Airplanes and spacecraft have a big problem. The more engine or fuel you have, the more engine and fuel you need. That’s why aircraft use techniques to have lightweight structural members and do everything they can to minimize weight. A lighter craft can go further and carry more payload or supercargo. Electric motors are very attractive for aircraft, but they suffer from having less efficiency per kilogram than competing technologies. H3X thinks they can change that with their HPDM-250 integrated motor and inverter.
Although the 15 kg motor is still in testing, the claimed specifications are impressive: a peak power of 250 kW for 30 seconds and continuous torque of 95 Nm and 200 kW sustained. The company claims 96.7% efficiency. The claims are for the motor running at 20,000 RPM, so you’d need to add the weight of a gearbox for practical applications, but the company says this adds a mere 3 kg to the overall weight.
Continue reading “3D Printed Electric Motor Wants To Take Flight”
At one time or another, most of us have seen a gadget for sale and thought we could build something similar for cheaper. Of course, we’re almost always wrong. Not about being able to build it, mind you. But when you add up the cost of the materials, the tool or two you almost inevitably end up buying, and the time spent chasing perfection, you’re lucky if you haven’t doubled the original price.
We’re not sure how much money [Taylor Hay] ended up saving by building his own portable power bank. But we do know it’s a gorgeous piece of hardware that’s certainly built far better than the average consumer gadget. The CNC-cut aluminum side panels look like something pulled out of a tank, and while we know some might balk at the 3D printed internal frame, we’re confident you could use this thing as an impromptu step stool without a problem.
Inside there’s 150 watt 240 VAC inverter, complete with a temperature-controlled fan to keep it cool under load. There are also four USB ports providing 2.1 A each, a standard 12 VDC accessory port, and a LED display that shows battery voltage and current being drawn. Rather than come up with his own battery pack, [Taylor] used a 3D printed interface that accepts an 18 V Milwaukee cordless tool battery. Naturally, the design could be adapted to take another brand’s cells if you were so inclined.
Around these parts, we know that a good project doesn’t have to be cheaper or even more practical than what’s already on the market. There’s an inherent value in building something exactly the way you want it that you simply can’t put a monetary price on.
Continue reading “Heavy Metal Power Bank Uses Tool Batteries”
Inverters that convert DC into AC are pretty commonplace, some cars even have standard AC receptacles in them for you to plug in your favorite appliance. However, there’s a particular type of inverter called a grid tie inverter that allows you not only to make AC, but also inject it back through an AC outlet to power other devices in conjunction with the normal AC service. Why? Maybe you want to use your own generator or solar power. In some cases, the power company will pay you if you produce more power than you consume. Maybe you just want to know you can do it. That seems to be the motivation behind [fotherby’s] build, which is quite substantial.
The setup only handles about 60 watts, but it does all the functions you need: DC to AC conversion as well as phase and voltage matching. Actually, just converting DC to AC is almost trivial if you don’t care about the waveform. But in this case, you do care that you can create an AC signal to match the one already on the line.
Continue reading “Build Your Own Grid Tie Inverter”
If you move in certain shady circles, you may have noticed the crop of improbably cheap “pocket welders” popping up on the market these days. They’re all variations on a theme, most with wildly optimistic specs minimal accessories of the lowest possible quality. But their tiny size and matching price make them irresistible to the would-be welder, as well as attractive to hardware hackers.
With a 220-V outlet in the garage waiting to be filled and well-knowing the risks, [Mr. RC-Cam] purchased one of these diminutive welding machines. Its shortcomings were immediately apparent, and a complete rework of the welder was undertaken. After addressing safety issues like the lack of a ground connection, [Mr. RC-Cam] added a color-matched 3D-printed hood to house a fancy new LCD touchscreen display. Backing that up is an ESP32 with Bluetooth, which supports remote control via a key fob. He also added a current sense board that uses the welder’s current shunt to measure welding current. Expediently calibrated using a waffle iron and a milli-ohmmeter, the sensor showed that the 200A max advertised for the welder was more like 100A. He tried adding some big electrolytics to fix the current issues, but no dice. With a decent stinger and ground clamp, the modified welder is good enough for his needs, and much was learned in the process. We call that a hacking win.
As an aside, [This Old Tony] recently did a review on a similar welder if you want more details on the internals. We also covered the conversion of a buzz-box to a TIG welder recently, should that be more your style.
Continue reading “Improbably Cheap Pocket Welder Gets An ESP32 Makeover”