Monitoring Energy Use And Saving Money

On the surface, the electric grid might seem like a solved piece of infrastructure. But there’s actually been a large amount of computerized modernization going in the background for the past decade or so. At a large scale this means automatic control of the grid, but for some electric utility customers like [Alex] this means the rates for electricity can change every hour based on demand. By keeping an eye on the current rate, you can extract the most value from these utilities.

[Alex] is located in the United Kingdom and has an energy provider whose rates can change every half hour. This information is freely available well enough in advance to download the data and display it visibly in with a NeoPixel LED ring around a clock. The colors displayed by the LEDs represent an increase or decrease in price for the corresponding time and allow him to better plan out the household’s energy use for the day. The clock uses a TinyPICO ESP32 module to gather the data and handle the clock display. A second wall-mounted device shows real-time energy readings for both gas and electricity using two old analog voltmeters modified to display kilowatt-hours.

While not everyone has a utility which allows this sort of granularity with energy pricing, having one can make a bit of a difference as electricity rates under this system can sometimes go negative. [Alex] estimates that using these two displays to coordinate his energy usage has saved around £50 a month. Even if your utility offers minimal or no price adjustments for time-of-use, it’s still a good idea to monitor energy use in your home. Here’s a fairly comprehensive project that does that without modifying any existing wiring.

Hackaday Prize Entry: A Very Small Power Grid

If it hasn’t been made readily apparent to you by now, power grids are astonishing marvels of technology and quite possibly one of the greatest engineering feats of history. Learning how these systems work is easy in theory, but in practice you will be shot if you try to screw around with at a power station. [Tim] and [Marissa] figured there must be an easier way to learn about power grids so they made their own. It’s small, but it still has everything you’d find in high voltage power lines, minus a hundred kilovolts or so.

This mockup of a power grid simulates a power plant by taking a normal DC motor and connecting that to an alternator and transformer. This is two of the simulated generation points, with the third AC/AC power supply serving as a reference generator for synchronizing phase and frequency. It’s only 12V at 60Hz, but it gets the job done.

A power grid isn’t power plants – there’s also transmission line theory. For this, [Tim] and [Marissa] have a few boards packed with inductors to simulate power lines. There are boards for simulated loads, and synchronization systems built on the MSP430.

In the video below, [Marissa] goes over all the ins and out of the system. It’s very well made and excellent for teaching something that can’t be demonstrated without a practical example.

The 2015 Hackaday Prize is sponsored by:

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