Tag Archive: Energy


An update on my latest project

Further to: https://tickett.wordpress.com/2012/12/31/a-new-year-a-new-project/ I have discovered quite a few things, and it looks like I’m not going to have to start from scratch (although I may still be designing some form of hardware, it’s hard to tell at this point).

Existing projects/products set out to do something similar:

NPlug- http://www.indiegogo.com/projects/283102/x/2060579

  • Consumption measuring (believed to be more accurate than existing devices)
  • Remote switching
  • WiFi connected (requires no bridge/gateway device)
  • Zigbee 802.15.4 for connecting to other devices
  • USB option (add 3G dongle, additional RF interface etc)
  • SoC running OpenWRT Linux
  • Open source
  • Lots more…
  • £100 (estimate)

This is really meant as a single device and not to be used with every appliance in the home. The device acts like a gateway itself and aims to connect to existing consumption/switching devices such as the IRIS / AlertMe suite.
I have pledged as a sponsor for this project, and hope to get my hands on a prototype- however, the funding has been a bit slow, so please help out :)

AlertMe (IRIS)- https://www.alertme.com/shopping

  • Consumption measuring
  • Remote switching
  • Zigbee
  • Requires the SmartEnergy pack as a bridge/gateway to the internet
  • £25

Ubiquiti mFi mPower- http://www.ubnt.com/mfi#m-Power

  • Consumption measuring
  • Remote switching
  • WiFi connected (requires no bridge/gateway device)
  • Comes in 3 flavours: Single, 3 socket extension cord and 8 socket extension cord
  • Only currently available with US / EU plugs
  • No EU stock currently available (when it is, I will try one with a UK plug adapter)

Belkin WeMo Switch- http://www.belkin.com/uk/c/WSWH

  • Switching only by the look of it
  • WiFi connected (requires no bridge/gateway device)
  • £40

Meter Polug- http://www.indiegogo.com/meterplug/x/2060579

  • Consumption measuring
  • Remote switching
  • Bluetooth only- so unless you’re within range and carrying a bluetooth equipped device, it’s not much good. This being said, the project has been fully funded, so there is clearly demand for such a device.
  • I have asked whether they’ve considered building a gateway device to enable internet connectivity but yet to hear back. Fingers crossed.

Other

  • I have purchased a USB Zigbee packet sniffer in the hope that I can make sense of some of the traffic floating around my house from various “smart” gadgets.
  • Still waiting on delivery of my EVE Alpha board- http://www.kickstarter.com/projects/ciseco/eve-alpha-raspberry-pi-wireless-development-hardwa this should allow me to start doing some cool stuff with a raspberry pi using the gpio pins rather than dozens of USB sticks!
  • The guys over at flukso have confirmed that they will be continuing work on their enhanced hexabus plug once they have another project out of the way: https://www.flukso.net/content/hexabus-plug
  • I sent some details to a few companies in an attempt to understand costings for PCB design, production and assembly. Just one company has responded to date: http://www.newburyelectronics.co.uk/ – for something like the Hexabus plug they’re suggesting (rough figures): £1,000 PCB design (£500 each of the 2), £80 PCB production (£40 each of the 2), £60 parts (excluding several parts they can’t source), £130 assembly & inspection. Bringing the total in at about £270/device (forgetting PCB design)- ouch!

That’ll likely be my last update for a few weeks, as I’m off to Thailand shortly :)

L

A new year, a new project

*EDIT*: Update on this project https://tickett.wordpress.com/2013/01/10/an-update-on-my-latest-project/

So I realise I have been a little quiet on here lately, and so will make it my new year’s resolution to get back in the habit of blogging regularly.

I would like to share some details of a project I’m assessing for feasibility. It is yet to be named but in essence I’m looking at building an Automated Mains Plug / Socket, let’s call it aPlug.

What do you mean by automated?

  • Remotely switchable / “programmable”
  • Monitor / log power / energy consumption

Don’t these already exist?

  • A lot of rf controllable plugs exist but there are a number of limitations- # cannot integrate with other equipment, # cannot operate from outside of the home, # cannot operate without the supplied remote, # cannot determine current state
  • Some power / energy consumption monitoring plugs exist but again, bare limitations- # cannot integrate with other equipment, # require a gateway device to post data to the internet
  • A few devices even exist which address both requirements but- # cannot integrate with other equipment, # cannot operate from outside the home, # require a gateway device (possibly even an entire pc to post data to the internet), # are expensive, # are closed source

There is however, one possible hope! The hexabus plug: http://signup.hexabus.net/ – I am trying to make contact with the guys behind the hexabus plug to determine where the project is currently, where it’s headed etc. Regardless, the great thing about the project, it is open source- which means the schematic / parts list (BOM) have been published: https://github.com/mysmartgrid/hexabus – unfortunately the PCB layout doesn’t appear to’ve been, but again, I’m hoping it will be shortly.

This project has also sparked the interest of the guys over at flukso, and became the center of a talk at one of their meetings: https://www.flukso.net/files/presentations/flukso.20121026.hack_hexaplug.pdf – where they have suggested a minor tweak to enable interconnectivity with jee labs devices (they include a PCB layout, which suggests they likely have them- I am trying to make contact with them too!)

Even if I manage to make contact and get details of the existing device I still have a lot to tackle…

Network connectivity
I’m currently looking at options, but it makes sense to try and learn from the lessons the guys behind LIFX: http://www.kickstarter.com/projects/limemouse/lifx-the-light-bulb-reinvented
They have essentially gone down the route of creating a mesh network with “slave” devices, then using a “master” device to bridge to the local area network (LAN) and essentially the internet. This ultimate is a gateway device but “in disguise”- and unless I can miraculously find a way of driving down the cost I can’t see any other approach being feasible?

Prototyping
I am making contact with a number of companies who design, produce and assemble printed circuit boards (PCBs) as a number of the components involved in the device cannot be soldered by hand nor can the circuit(s) likely be built using a simple breadboard. I imagine this is going to be a real challenge as the cost for “one-off” or very limited production runs is likely to be extremely high.

Software / Firmware
I have coded some simple arduino / atmega programs in the past, and worked with some of the jeelabs devices but I will certainly be needing assistance to build something as complex as this if it’s going to be robust enough to put “out in the field”. My hope is that developers will show a keen enough interest and we can build something as a community. The devices will be reprogrammable so new firmware can be flashed with relative ease. The problems will come when a hardware change is required…

Certification
Regardless of whether a device is faced with mains voltages or whether a device is aimed at developers I anticipate some form of certification being required- this could be tricky (especially on an evolving device).

Funding
To gauge interest, boost funding, promote the project and hopefully attract some developers, testers and contributors I would like to run a kickstarter project- unfortunately it’s a little chicken & egg as I need at least some form of prototype before I can reach out to the community. I have however drafted a project so I am prepared if I do get that far: http://www.kickstarter.com/projects/tickett/736265394?token=98a4e52f (so far just some notes, and the reward levels are pure guesswork).

I just knocked the artwork up from a few google images:

I have asked someone to design some artwork for a t-shirt, so I will see if they can come up with a cool concept :)

Where Next?
Yes, it’s far too early to be thinking about that, but I can’t help it!

  • Multi socket extension lead type device with individual socket switching and consumption monitoring
  • aSocket, essentially a mains socket with the device inside so no “plug” is required
  • Other plug types (I am based in the UK so this is where I intend to initially focus)

At this stage I’d appreciate any feedback, or expressions of interest etc

Happy new year to all

Lee

Just logged in to see a few improvements / updates to the http://my.currentcost.com dashboard. Compare daily usage for week periods:

Record gas & water consumption (not tried these yet):

And finally- record consumption cost (to the nearest penny isn’t going to give very accurate cost estimates but it helps):

Meanwhile Enio (http://www.enio.co.uk) has now been down for over a week.

L

Just opened up one of my IAM’s to see what’s inside (I was hopefully it might have an ATMEGA like the bridge/netsmart) but no such luck:

The chip in the bottom right I think is a CS7760: http://www.chipsea.com/doce/product-detail-93.html (used to convert energy to pulses?)

Then on the reverse of the PCB the PIC16F689- so it doesn’t look like I’ll be doing anything much with it in a hurry!

L

Current Cost OptiSmart

My OptiSmart arrived this afternoon from Current Cost and I immediately dismantled it :)

Fairly amusing to see how tiny the circuitry was, and that the batteries are taking up 80% of the space inside the device!

The board itself looks pretty straight forward (although my knowledge is pretty limited in this area). I can see the RF module and a PIC chip with what appears to be a header available for reflashing?

My gas meter has an RJ11 connector with 2 wires staying open about 80% of the dial on the meter then closing for the remaining 20%. I hoped to replace the standard sensor with a straight forward RJ11 cable.

I spliced into the cable which comes with the OptiSmart (to read the blinking LED from newer meters) but couldn’t determine what each of the 4 wires in the sensor cable was doing. *EDIT* Upon further investigation, it appears the green wire is GND and red is +3V. Shorting any combination of them didn’t seem to count a pulse on the EnviR display so it doesn’t look like I can connect it to my gas meter as simply as I was hoping. *EDIT* Cracked it :) Join the green and brown wires then place the reed switch between the red and black wires- voila!

I need to adjust it to convert from cubic feet of gas consumed to the equivalent watts but then i’m all set!

I will likely try more experimenting tomorrow- worst case scenario I guess I could fashion a circuit which blinks an led on the opening or closing of the RJ11 connection but it seems a bit mad to need to go that route!

L

Energy Monitoring Update

So I’ve neglected the whole energy monitoring interest for a few months but spotted the new CurrentCost Individual Appliance Monitors (IAMs) are finally available (http://www.ebay.co.uk/itm/Current-Cost-IAM-Pack-1-UK-Version-Only-/170673700726?pt=UK_AudioElectronicsVideo_Video_TelevisionSetTopBoxes&hash=item27bcf1ff76) so ordered a few and started playing again.

In addition to monitoring overall household consumption I now have the fridge, servers and living room a/v equipment each giving their own power readings BUT these are not currently posted to the internet using my original CurrentCost bridge. After doing a little reading it appears a new bridge has been released now branded as the CurrentCost "NetSmart". You can send off your existing device to be upgraded (presumably a firmware flash): http://currentcost.com/netsmart-upgrade.html or buy new.

Upgrade pricing:

£5.99- NetSmart 12 (12 month subscription with up to 3 additional energy data channels)
£7.99- NetSmart 24 (24 month subscription with up to 3 additional energy data channels)
£11.99- NetSmart Pro 12 (12 month subscription with up to 9 additional energy data channels)
£14.99- NetSmart Pro 24 (24 month subscription with up to 9 additional energy data channels)

New pricing:

£34.49- NetSmart 12
£37.49- NetSmart 24
£39.94- NetSmart Pro 12
£45.94- NetSmart Pro 24

I opted for the NetSmart Pro 24. I’ve yet to receive the device but I’ve seen a sneak peak of what to expect on the forum:

The other addition to my existing system I’ve been wanting to see is the ability to monitor gas and hopefully even water consumption. Neither have officially been delivered BUT a new device is available which may help achieve one or both of the aforementioned: Introducting the CurrentCost OptiSmart- http://currentcost.com/product-optismart.html

The OptiSmart can be used as an alternative to the clamp/transmitter that originally shipped with the energy monitor(s) if (and only if) your electricity meter is compatible. The same device can in theory be used to read gas and water meters should they contain a pulsing LED to indicate consumption. Unfortunately, mine do not! However, whilst examine my gas meter (Slumberger R5) I found an RJ11 socket which after some research appears to provide direct connectivity to the pulses! With a bit of luck the lead on the OptiSmart can be modified to plug in to this RJ11 socket. I’ve sent an e-mail to CurrentCost to see if they can confirm this before I order one. If that fails I may try with the CurrentCost development board.

I mentioned in a post a while back that Google were retiring their Powermeter service so I’m still on the lookout for a replacement service (or building something myself).

After a bit of research I discovered CurrentCost are already feeding the energy consumption and temperature to pachube. There is a nice little pachube app which utilizes google’s charting ability:

You can find your feed_id in the http://my.currentcost.com dashboard (on the right side in the devices section):

Unfortunately only a month’s data is currently retained (this may be a limitation with the free pachube account being used to post the monitor data?) and I really want years of data so I can compare same time last year figures etc. The search continues…

I also stumbled across the Home Automation Hub: http://www.homeautomationhub.com/ which is an open source project which involves ref lashing a Livebox to interact with various devices (including the CurrentCost energy monitor). I really like the idea of this as there’s so much more potential for two-way communication and other applications (linking in nicely with some of my other long term goals) but at the moment I’m going to shy away from it on account of the language being new to me and the apparent lack of current community support.

Expect another update once the NetSmart device comes through and potentially after a start logging gas consumption!

L

New Virtual Lab – Part 1

Since I moved (about a year ago) I have been without a virtual lab- the old lab ran on 2x Dell Poweredge 2950 III & 1x HP Proliant DL385 G2, noisey and power-hungry! My intention was to run power to the garage so I could bring the lab back to life, but rising electricity costs and some interesting posts on Jason’s blog persuaded me to order some new, smaller, quieter and more green/efficient hardware:

£163 – Supermicro X8SIL-F (the motherboard Jason recommended and many seem to’ve reported success with)
£255 – Intel Xeon X3470 Quad-Core 2.93Ghz (Socket 1156)
£026 – Akasa Intel 1U 1156 CPU Cooler (AK-CCE-7107BS)
£123 – 4x 4GB Kingston 1333Mhz ECC (KVR1333D3E9S/4G or KVR1333D3E9SK2/8G)

I already had some spare 1U Supermicro chassis with power supplies (512L-200B) and USB pen drives laying around for the hypervisors.

I initially ordered one of the above-mentioned kit from LambdaTek (I intended to get comfortable with it before ordering more). Unfortunately the motherboard was on back order so I decided to look around for another supplier. I couldn’t find anywhere cheaper or with stock so i picked 2 up from an international seller on eBay. While I was at it I grabbed another x3470 from Amazon (£260), another 16GB of RAM from Crescent Electronics (£107) and another Cooler (this time the Gelid Slim Silence IPlus Low Profile Intel CPU Cooler from Cool&Quiet @ £20)

Part 2 to follow! Just a quick note about the Akasa Cooler- i’ve deliberately put a line through it because you should NOT order it (it’s no good- i will get onto that in part 2)

L

I’m still yet to find a decent replacement for Google Powermeter (i’m starting to think i’ll need to write something myself… php/mySQL possibly?)

Anyway- i’ve noticed my baseline (always on) power consumption is pretty high so picked up an extension lead from maplin http://www.maplin.co.uk/power-strip-with-energy-and-co2-meter-348228 (£12.99) with a built in display (current consumption, max consumption, cumulative consumption, power factor etc) to check all of my devices to see where I might be able to realize some improvements.

Here’s what I found with some commentary:

Fish Tank Pump: 4W (Reasonable & not really optional)
32″ TV Standby: 4W (Not great but it’s normally turned off at the mains not left on standby)- On: 110W (Pretty poor but it is relatively old tech)
Sky+ Box: 20W (Appeared to draw the same power whilst in standby and whilst in use)
Clarke Tech 9000 HD Satellite Receiver Standby: 26W- On: 31W
42″ LG TV Standby: 1W (Expected for a relatively recent model)- On: 68W (Not bad considering it’s not LED backlit)
Boiler Idle: 3W
50″ Panasonic Plasma TV Standby: 20W (Very poor, but unsurprising for old tech)- On: 400W (ouch!)
Mordaunt Short Subwoofer Standy: 3W (Seems reasonable with the auto-on feature active)- On: 18W
Acer Revo r3610 XBMC HTPC Off: 3W- Idle: 32W- Watching a movie: 28W (why it uses more power when idle than whilst playing a movie i will never know?)
Mini TP-Link 5port Gigabit Switch: 2W (impressive!)
Linksys Enterprises Managed 24Port Switch w/POE : 41W (expected this- may do some research into alternatives)
4×4 HDMI Matrix Switch: 14W
Nintendo Wii Off: 3W- On: 16W
Onkyo 608SR Amp Off: 0W (impressive!)- On: 45W- Playing Loud: 55W
Netgear Router: 10W
HP Proliant Microserver in use: 40W (impressive!)
Giant American Style Samsung Fridge Freezer: 100W (pretty good from what i understand)
Dell Poweredge 2950 III Off: 30W (ouch- this is with both PSUs plugged in- i have already ordered replacement Supermicro servers which I believe use 40W roughly whilst on/idle!)- On: 350W (ouchhhhhh!)

That’s about all… We know the usual appliances: Kettle, Oven, Microwave, Toaster, Washing Machine, Tumble Dryer, Hover, Hair Dryer etc draw ridiculous amounts of power but I was predominantly interested in always on devices. I will try and add some makes/models above where i haven’t already put details. If you can recommend any green devices please do share!

L

Solar Experiment

Been busy as usual- neglecting the blog a little- so hopefully get a few updates out tonight :)

There’s been a lot of talk about solar power recently and the various schemes to reduce energy consumption and in turn utility bills!

From initial research it looks like you have several options:

  • Receive the equipment/installation for a minimal fee & sign an agreement to keep the panels for 25years (your energy bills will be reduced but any power generated in excess of your usage will be fed back to the grid with no reward)
  • Buy the equipment outright for a rather substantial fee (£10k+) and receive payment for any power generated in excess of your home’s consumption (some initial calculations suggest 20years roughly before your savings cover your initial investment)

I don’t really want to be tied in for 25years nor do I have £10k+ to spare so I thought I’d experiment with some cheap imported panels to see whether I want to invest more time/money in a long term solution.

I imported 4x 100W panels and 4 grid-tie inverters from china for roughly £800 and set them up temporarily in the back garden.

I bought a £10 extension lead from maplin which shows power throughput and hooked up the panels/inverters. I ran the setup for 2days (fairly decent weather wise for the UK) and generated 5KW of power (max at any one time was 340W). The video below is a bit poor as the monitors refresh at different rates, but you can just about see my home’s power consumption (top) dropping as the power generated by the solar panels (bottom) rises:

I was relatively pleased with how easy the setup was but after some calculations decided that it still wasn’t worth the investment (would be looking at roughly 10years to cover the initial investment). I’m selling the kit on eBay and hope to make my money back :)

L

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