In most places around the world, electricity is getting ever more expensive. Cutting back on your usage is one of the easier ways to escape this pain. This smart powermeter from [JGAguagdo] may prove a useful tool to achieve that goal.
The project uses an ESP32-S2 as the brains of the operation. It’s capable of reading up to six current-transformer clamps for measuring current draw in AC devices. It also features an embedded BMP280 temperature and air pressure sensor. Live data is displayed on a 2.9-inch e-Paper display, making it clear and easy to read under normal lighting conditions. By default, it’s set up to display graphs of power usage both over the last 24 hours, and the last ten days. It can even be set up with the prevailing energy rates in your area to display a realistic figure for what you’ll pay for your daily usage.
It can even be set up to work with Home Assistant for more logging and control options. We can imagine that, with a little work, you could even do some fancy plotting of energy use versus temperature to determine the performance and cost of your home HVAC setup.
If you want one with a minimum of fuss, you can score one on Tindie. Alternatively, design files are available on GitHub, too. We’ve featured some other great power meters over the years, and if you’re cooking up your own smart designs, don’t hesitate to let us know!
Measuring a voltage is pretty easy: just place your multimeter’s probes across the relevant pins and read the value. Probing currents is a bit trickier, since you need to open up the circuit and place your probes in series. Checking a circuit’s power consumption is the hardest, since you need to measure both voltage and current as well as multiply them at each moment in time. Fed up with having to hook up two multimeters and running a bunch of synchronized measurements, [Per-Simon Saal] built himself an automatic digital power meter.
The heart of this instrument is an INA219 chip, which can measure and digitize voltage and current simultaneously. It outputs the results through an I2C bus, which [Per-Simon] hooked up to a miniaturized version of the Raspberry Pi Pico called an RP2040-Zero. A screw terminal block is provided to connect the system to the device under test, while a 0.96″ OLED display shows the measured voltage, current and power.
The maximum voltage that can be measured is 26 V, while the current range is determined by the shunt resistor mounted on the board. The default shunt is 0.1 Ω, resulting in a 3.2 A maximum current range, but you can get pretty much any range you want by simply mounting a different resistor and changing the software configuration. In addition to displaying the instantaneous values, the power meter can also keep a log of its measurements – very useful for debugging circuits that use more energy than expected or for measuring things like the capacity of a battery.
There are lots of ways to measure electric power, but they all boil down to multiplying current and voltage in some way. The multiplication was done magnetically in the old days, but modern meters like [Per-Simon]’s of course use digital systems. Some can even plug directly into a USB port. If you want to measure mains power, transformers are an essential component for safety reasons.
You may have seen some of the EEVblog dumpster dive videos, where [Dave Jones] occasionally finds perfectly good equipment that’s been tossed out. But this time, rather than a large screen monitor, desktop computer, or a photocopier, he features a stash of 283 electrical outlet double adapters that he found last year. He decided to perform a test in the parking lot, connecting all 283 adapters in series.
Using a pair of power meters and a 2 kW electric heater as a test load, [Dave] and his son [Sagan] measure the loss through this wild setup. It works out to about about 300 W, or roughly 1 W per adapter. He did a follow-up experiment using a FLIR thermal camera, and confirmed that the power loss is reasonably uniform, and that no single rogue adapter consuming all the lost power. After a back of the envelope calculation, we estimate this chain of adapters is about 20 meters long, making this whole thing entirely pointless but interesting nonetheless. Stick around until the end of the video for a teardown — they’re not as cheaply made as you might think.
[Dave]’s crazy experiment aside, we do wonder why someone had so many adapters to throw away in the first place. What would you have done with 283 adapters — left them in the dumpster or rescued them?
Continue reading “Experimenting With 20 Meters Of Outlet Adapters”
There was an urban legend back in the days of mechanical electricity meters, that there were “lucky” appliances that once plugged in would make the meter go backwards. It probably has its origin in the interaction between a strongly capacitive load and the inductance of the coils in the meter but remains largely apocryphal for the average home user. That’s not to say that a meter can’t be fooled into doing strange things though, as a team at the University of Twente have demonstrated by sending some more modern meters running backwards. How have they performed this miracle? Electromagnetic interference from a dimmer switch.
Reading the paper (PDF link) it becomes apparent that this behavior is the result of the dimmer switch having the ability to move the phase of the current pulse with respect to the voltage cycle. AC dimmers are old hat in 2021, but for those unfamiliar with their operation they work by switching themselves on only for a portion of the mains cycle. The cycle time is varied by the dimming control. Thus the time between the mains zero-crossing point and their turn-on point is equivalent to a phase shift of the current waveform. Since electricity meters depend heavily upon this phase relationship, their performance can be tuned. Perhaps European stores will now brace themselves for a run on dimmer switches.
If you’re curious about these old-style dimmers, take a look at some of their basic functionality.
Thanks [Dorus] for the tip.
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.
If you’be been hacking and making long enough, you’ve probably run into a situation where you realize that a previous project could be improved with the addition of technology that simply wasn’t available when you built it. Sometimes it means starting over from scratch, but occasionally you luck out and can shoehorn in some new gear without having to go back to the drawing board.
The two isolated variacs that [nop head] built were already impressive, but with the addition of the ESP8266 he was able to add some very slick additional features which really took them to the next level. He’s done an exceptional job detailing the new modifications, including providing all the source for anyone who might be walking down a similar path.
His variacs have digital energy meters right in the front panel which give voltage, amps, and a real-time calculation of watts. After reading an article by [Thomas Scherrer] about sniffing the SPI data out of one of these meters with an Arduino, [nop head] reasoned he could do the same thing with an ESP8266. The advantage being that he could then pull that data out over the network to graph or analyze however he wishes.
For his older variac, he decided to automate the device by adding a stepper and belt to turn the knob. The stepper is controlled by a Pololu stepper driver, which in turn get’s its marching orders from another ESP8266. He even came up with a simple web interface which allows you to monitor and control the variac from your smart device.
We don’t often see many variacs around these parts, and even fewer attempts at building custom ones. It’s one of those pieces of equipment you either can’t live without, or have never even heard of.
Going from idea to one-off widget is one thing; engineering the widget into a marketable product is quite another. So sometimes it’s instructive to take an in-depth look at a project that was designed from the get-go to be a consumer product, like this power indicating wall outlet cover plate. The fact that it’s a pretty cool project helps too.
Although [Vitaliy] has been working on this project for a while, he only recently tipped us off to it, and we’re glad he did because there’s a lot to learn here. His goal was to build a replacement cover for a standard North American power outlet that indicates how much power is being used by whatever is plugged into it. He set constraints that included having everything fit into the familiar outlet cover form factor, as well as to not require any modification to the existing outlet or rewiring, so that a consumer can just remove the old cover and put on the new one. Given the extremely limited space inside an outlet cover, these were significant challenges, but [Vitaliy] found a way. Current is sensed with two inductors positioned to sense magnetic flux within the outlet, amplified by a differential amp, and power use is calculated by an ATmega328 for display on 10 LEDs. Power for the electronics is tapped right from the outlet wiring terminals by spring clips, and everything fits neatly inside the cover.
It’s a great design, but not without issues. We look forward to seeing [Vitaliy] tackle those problems and bring this to market. For more on what it takes to turn a project into a product, check out our own [Lewin Day]’s story of bringing a guitar effects pedal to market.
Continue reading “Smart Outlet Cover Offers Lessons On Going From Project To Product”