As a society in the USA and other parts of the world, we don’t give much thought to the twisting vines of civilization that entangle our skies and snake beneath our streets. The humming electrical lines on long poles that string our nations together are simply just there. Ever-present and immutable. We expect to flick the switch and power to come on. We only notice the electrical grid when something goes wrong and there is a seemingly myriad number of ways for things to go wrong. Lighting strikes, trees falling on lines, fires, or even too many people trying to crank on the A/C can all cause rolling blackouts. Or as we found out this month, cold weather can take down generation systems that have not been weatherized.
We often hear the electrical grid described as aging and strained. As we look to the future and at the ever-growing pressure on the infrastructure we take for granted, what does the future of the electrical grid look like? Can we move past blackouts and high voltage lines that criss-cross the country?
It hardly seems possible, but the Hackaday Prize, the world’s greatest hardware design contest, is once more at hand. But the world of 2020 is vastly different than it was last year, and the challenges we all suddenly face have become both more numerous and more acute as a result. We’ve seen hackers rise to the challenges presented by the events of the last few months in unexpected ways, coming up with imaginative solutions and pressing the limits of what’s possible. What this community can do when it is faced with a real challenge is inspiring.
Now it’s time to take that momentum and apply it to some of the other problems the world is facing. For the 2020 Hackaday Prize, we’re asking you to throw your creativity at challenges in conservation, disaster response, assistive technology, and renewable resources. We’ve teamed up with leading non-profits in those areas, each of which has specific challenges they need you to address.
With $200,000 in prize money at stake, we’re sure you’re going to want to step up to the challenge. To help get you started, Majenta Strongheart, Head of Design and Partnerships at Supplyframe, will drop by the Hack Chat with all the details on the 2020 Hackaday Prize. Come prepared to pick her brain on what needs doing and how best to tackle the problems that the Prize is trying to address. And find out about all the extras, like the “Dream Team” microgrants, the wild card prize, and the community picks.
Click that speech bubble to the right, and you’ll be taken directly to the Hack Chat group on Hackaday.io. You don’t have to wait until Wednesday; join whenever you want and you can see what the community is talking about.
With electricity cost going up and the likes of British Gas hiking up their price, everyone could use a bit of free energy. There are a number of ways to harvest renewable energy including solar and wind, however, the cost of setting up a wind farm can be quite high. [Mr Tickles] has uploaded a video where he has a cheaper DIY method of making a DIY wind turbine.
His project uses a commercial ceiling fan as a turbine for converting the wind energy into electricity. PVC pipes are used to mount the entire thing such that it becomes portable. A cardboard fin is used to make the propeller face the wind but there are plans to upgrade it in the future. [Mr Tickles] demonstrates his project by lighting up a lamp and then charging a cell phone.
For the price, this hack is pretty neat and can be extended to work with larger fans. For those who are looking at an even simpler version of this build, check out the most straightforward wind turbine.
There’s more than that of course, but the wind farms that [Jason Staggs] and his fellow researchers at the University of Tulsa had permission to access were — alarmingly — devoid of security measures beyond a padlock or tumbler lock on the turbines’ server closet. Being that wind farms are generally in open fields away from watchful eyes, there is little indeed to deter a would-be attacker.
[Staggs] notes that a savvy intruder has the potential to shut down or cause considerable — and expensive — damage to entire farms without alerting their operators, usually needing access to only one turbine to do so. Once they’d entered the turbine’s innards, the team made good on their penetration test by plugging their Pi into the turbine’s programmable automation controller and circumventing the modest network security.
The team are presenting their findings from the five farms they accessed at the Black Hat security conference — manufacturers, company names, locations and etc. withheld for obvious reasons. One hopes that security measures are stepped up in the near future if wind power is to become an integral part of the power grid.
All this talk of hacking and wind reminds us of our favourite wind-powered wanderer: the Strandbeest!
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.
Most of our energy comes from dead algae or dead ferns right now, and we all know that can’t continue forever. The future is by definition sustainable, and if you’re looking for a project to change the world for this year’s Hackaday Prize, you can’t do better than something to get the world off carbon-based fuels.
Building the machines that make sustainable energy possible or even just the tools that will let us use all that energy are just a few ideas that would make great entries for The Hackaday Prize. You could go another direction and build the tools that will build and maintain these devices, like figuring out a way to keep these batteries and generators out of the landfill. Any way you look at it, anything that actually matters would make a great entry to The Hackaday Prize.