Sustainable Energy and OpenEnergyMonitor development

I really first got interested in sustainability in 2005, I got involved with a group called the welsh youth forum on sustainable development and our main project at the time was on climate change. I remember one meeting where we where discussing what we would do. I remember thinking and suggesting back then that as sustainability requires a shift from our current carbon based use of energy over to renewable energy that a suitable project would be to measure our current use of energy as a group and see if we could make measurable progress towards both reduced use of energy and increased renewable energy.

Nothing came of the idea at that time as I didn't put the work in to make it happen, never-the-less the idea stayed in my mind and the idea of measuring energy so that we can receive feedback on our progress and make sure our actions are effective ultimately let to the starting of this project 4 years later. I also fancied the challenge of building the tools to do this myself as that would allow me to get at and use the data to make the analyses I wanted which was not possible with the household energy monitors available at the time. And it goes without saying that I also think that making these tools open-source would be awesome as open source is awesome.

While learning more about sustainability Suneil, Glyn and I came across a book called Sustainable Energy - without the hot air by David MacKay of Cambridge University: http://www.withouthotair.com/ which is a really enlightening book that we got excited about here. The book highlights an approach using quite straight forward maths for quantifying our use of energy in full and then calculating how much renewables we would require to provide that energy.


The result of the calculations is staggering in terms of the scale of the renewables required to provide our current energy consumption: We need country sized areas devoted to renewables to provide significant slices of our energy use. The main message of the book is that we need energy plans that add-up, we cant be anti wind, hydro, solar, nuclear etc etc and not in my back yard and at the same time expect enough energy to do everything we do at the moment and have a healthy biosphere.

Saul Griffiths great talk on energy comes to the same conclusions using much of the same approach, using Watts instead of kWh/d and applied to the world instead of the uk.


So where do we go from here?

I like the way Saul Griffiths puts it very clearly at the start of his talk:

“We've heard about climate change, energy plans... What you probably want to know is how do you fit in, how do you relate to energy. What you also really need are the right tools for making the right consumer choices so that your life can match with the outcome for the planet that you would like.”

Energy monitoring hardware is one part of the tool-set required and we have made good progress with this project on these: We now have an energy monitor for monitoring mains AC electricity use , a multiple input pulse counter to interface with many smart meters a DC energy monitor for microrenewables and a Solar hot water controller/monitor.

The other part to the tool-set is good visualisation of the monitored data so that it can be understood and related to our actions and aims. This can be divided into two parts: standalone displays and computer based visualisations. Glyn is currently working on a stand-alone energy display design and I'm working with Carlos and Suneil on a energy visualisation web application.

We hope the OpenEnergyMonitor tools can complement and build upon the work of David MacKay and Saul Griffiths making it easier to understand our energy use, understand the energy choices that we have and allow us to see and track the progress that we make.

In the next couple of posts I will introduce the energy visualisation web application that we are working on and also three initiative that are in the pipeline that make use of these tools: the CAT microgrid display project, the EcoBro community energy decent project and Megni an energy monitoring and energy visualisation business that Glyn and I have been working on setting up. There has been quite a bit going on recently I feel its time I sat down to update about it.

Sparkfun tutorial: Solder stenciling

Sparkfun sometimes posts very useful tutorials on skills related to tinkering with electronics. This time they made a video tutorial on using a stencil to solder SMD components on a PCB. I find it quite useful, even for very small volumes (starting 5-10).


If you are not the lucky owner of a laser cutter, there are many websites that offer to produce the stencil for you like www.ohararp.com for reasonable prices.


MakerBot's Bre Pettis on Entrepreneur.com

After Limor Fried yesterday, another entrepreneur in the field or open source hardware is featured on Entrepreneur.com: MakerBot's CEO Bre Pettis.

For those who don't know Makerbot: it is a 3D printer that produces objects made of plastic from 3D files. You can order a kit and build your own, or optimize and change the machine.

(follow the link for the video)

I find the tips Bre gave in the video very helpful for people who plan to start an open source hardware business.


Limor Fried:one of the most influential Women in Technology 2010

She strikes again :) This time an entire article is dedicated to her on FastCompany.com.


I find this part really funny:
“They see how Adafruit is run, and say, ‘I’m gonna go off and start a company that makes 3-D printed robots!’” Fried says.

... because in our case, we thought we're gonna run off and start a company that makes energy monitors.





Definition of open-source hardware

The software and hardware of the OpenEnergyMonitor project are open-source.

Open-source software has been around for some time. The concept is simple to understand and relatively easy to implement. The source code with documentation is made available to all; usually a through a free online download.

Open-source hardware is a relatively new idea. Basically it entails the sharing of the hardware design (schematics, CAD files, documentation etc) so that the hardware can be reproduced and/or modified by someone else. Until now there has been no formal definition. A community derived official definition of open-source hardware is just been released:

http://www.adafruit.com/blog/2011/02/10/open-hardware-definition-1-0-released/

Logo ideas for open-source hardware. To be printed on PCB's etc.










Below is another (newly submitted) logo I found on the forum. I really like this one. I think it combines the best features of the best two designs above. The only problem I can see is the circles being mistaken for pads and drilled out while drilling the PCB! 



A few tips from DIY Drones

I visit regulary DIY Drones, and two posts lately captured my attention because they are directly related to our project:

  1. Dronepedia: The first issue is the necessity of having a well done wiki for any Open Source project. A solid wiki would spare users a lot of time and many replicated discussions. I think it is time for the Open Energy Monitor to have a solid wiki, and the team here agrees on it. I guess we will roll it very soon. Needless to say, help is much appreciated.

  2. DIY electronics warranties: A serious issue for the DIY movement businesses, and small electronics makers in general. Where does your liability stop, and where does users responsibility begin? As Anderson puts it in his post, it varies from one company to another, while they are committed to delivering a minimum level of customer and technical support, other companies estimate that starting the moment where you power the components on, their liability stops. It is quite paradoxal indeed. I invite you to read the linked post ans share with us your opinions in the comments


A great talk by Saul Griffith on energy

A fantastic video:



Can we make this kind of analysis and sustainable energy plan at the community-group scale?

It would be really exiting to integrate the electricity energy monitoring hardware directly into such tools so that the larger context of energy use is easy to see.