Discussion elsewhere prompted me to look into what I spent on what you might term my energy smart systems relating to electricity consumption, so I thought I’d document it here.
Solar photovoltaic system (4kW)
Bundled with ImmerSUN.
Powervault battery storage (4kWh)
Free installation as part of UKPN trial.
ImmerSUN management system with monitoring.
Estimate based on today’s pricing.
Remote-controlled car charger.
Modified used charger from eBay. My own software.
Raspberry Pi items to make HEMS
My own software.
Wet goods automation (WIFIPLUG x 2)
Prior analysis of items #1-#4 in pre-Agile days has suggested a total of 9 years to achieve payback on this investment through use of around 85% of the generated energy. Solar panels are potentially good for over 20 years operation, although I doubt the lead-acid batteries will still be operating for anything like that long.
The combination of item #5 with my Octopus Agile dynamic smart electricity tariff has resulted in my average bought electricity price being 7.75 p/kWh in 2019, about half the UK average. I suppose that I could make the same judgements and program items manually each day, but the HEMS significantly reduces my time commitment to achieve that.
Item #6 is my most recent addition. The sophistication of the algorithm combining the Agile tariff with a simple model of the cycle of each device is such that I would never achieve such a high quality result manually. However the saving is perhaps only a three pence each day so maybe £10 per year on my Agile tariff and thus 7 years to pay for the two smart plugs.
Much of this content is thus around 7 years to payback. The HEMS is potentially much quicker, but relies on having smart systems to control such as battery storage and car charger.
Yesterday provided a good example of my HEMS in action as the electricity price dropped quite low due to stormy weather conditions. Normally at this time of year the HEMS isn’t doing much with the storage battery as daytime solar output is enough to fully charge the battery, but yesterday low pricing was enough to automatically enable both battery charging and water heating overnight. Car charging was due to run anyway driven by the demand for an hour of charging, but battery charging and water heating was triggered by the low price rather than a needed to take power for a pre-defined period of time.
The screenshot above from my phone shows the HEMS’ plan for the the early hours of the 9th. The first price column shows one hour of car charging at the cheapest price. The second column shows half an hour of water heating as the electricity price has fallen below 3.5 p/kWh when it is assumed to be cheaper than gas. The third column shows four hours of battery charging when the electricity price is below 5 p/kWh.
The above image from the HAN side of my smart meter shows the energy consumption of the house varying through the night in response to these requests from the HEMS – battery charging at the widest point, car charging above that for an hour, and water heating above that for 30 minutes.
Finally this image shows the energy consumption versus price data for the same period shows how the action of the HEMS increases electricity demand as the price drops. Indeed on this day there was virtually no consumption at any other time.
For August 9th as a whole I paid 52 pence for 7.547 kWh of electricity. Taking off the 21 pence for the standing charge leaves 31 pence for the electricity kWhs alone, an average of 4.11 p/kWh.
Today I’ve further refined the wiring of the relays on the HEMS. At the time that I’d originally wired it I didn’t have small enough flex, or indeed multi core, which created an unnecessary number of cables (one per used relay) of over large size (and thus difficult to insert into the terminals). During the week I acquired some smaller gauge multi core allowing me to wire all three relays with a single cable containing one live feed and three switched live returns.
Of the 5 incoming / outgoing cables at the bottom (left to right):
Incoming mains (live / neutral / earth) from mains plug
Live and switched live to / from ImmerSUN output relay to activate car charger.
Live and switched lives to / from HEMS to activate car charger and water heating.
Red – live to contacts
Green – switched live for car charger direct – charge in response to price
Black – switched live for car charger indirect via ImmerSUN relay output – enable proportional charge in response to surplus PV
White – switched live for water heating – heat in response to price
Outgoing mains (switched live / neutral / earth) to RF solutions radio transmitter to activate car charger, and on the second cable clamp..
Outgoing switched live and neutral to ImmerSUN Boost relay input to enable immersion heater.
The revised wiring diagram looks like this..
All of this still leaves one unused relay on the HEMS (HAT #3) and one unused proportional output on the ImmerSUN (#2; available for future expansion.
Initially even my smallest boot lace ferrules would not fit into the terminals on the HAT. Fortunately, once the ferrules has been crimped around the new cables, and flattened by squeezing in pliers, then the ferrules could be persuaded into the terminals.
After a series of quite detailed posts, I think that the time has come for an updated high level overview of what we have.
We moved to our early 1970s house almost 4 years ago bringing with us our electric vehicle. The house had already been refurbished with new double-glazed windows, had cavity insulation (although that wasn’t recorded on EPC so must have predated the prior owners), and a token level of loft insulation. The existing gas boiler was arthritic, couldn’t heat the whole house, but was quite good at heating the header tanks in the loft! We had gravity-fed gas hot water (i.e. no thermostat or pump on the cylinder) which was completely obsolete, the cylinder dated back to the building of the house and had no immersion heater (although we had the wiring for one). So what did we do?
We substantially increased the loft insulation to reduce heat loss.
We had a modern condensing gas boiler installed to improve efficiency.
We updated to smart controls using eTRVs to set both temperature set points and schedules at room level. I built a smart interface to the boiler so that heating can be enabled remotely. I programmed a series of rules into Apple Home allowing the smart thermostats to enable the boiler when any thermostat wants heat and disable it when no thermostat wants heat. Some rooms also have additional rules linking heating to open windows or movement sensors. All of this reduces heat losses by only heating rooms that are (or will be shortly be) in use.
We installed our own solar panels given 4 kWp generation. (I also own a small share of a solar farm although there’s no contract that I’m aware of between that farm and my home energy supplier)
I invested in an immerSUN to maximise self-use of our own solar by enabling loads when surplus solar is available.
We switched to a green electricity supplier so when we need to buy electricity it comes from renewable sources.
We bought a small storage battery 4 kWh to store some of our solar production for use later in the day. Subsequently I can also use it in winter to buy when the electricity price is relatively low to avoid buying when the price is relatively high.
We chose a dynamic smart tariff to buy electricity at the lowest price based on market prices established the day before. The prices change each half hour and are established in the late afternoon on the day before.
We replaced the old hot water cylinder with a modern insulated one (to reduce heat loss) with a low immersion heater (to allow more of the water volume to be heated).
Our principal water heating is now by diverting surplus solar electricity proportionately to the immersion heater, that’s backed up by the gas boiler which is enabled briefly in the evening for water heating in case the water isn’t yet up to temperature, and when the electricity price falls below the gas price I can enable the immersion heater on full power.
All accessible hot water pipes are insulated.
Electric car charger:
I built my own electric car charger that takes an external radio signal to switch between four settings 0, 6, 10 and 16 Amps to help me adjust consumption to match to availability of output from my solar panels. (Subsequently such products were developed commercially with continuously variable current limits, but the limitations of my immersun and on/off radio signal don’t allow me to go quite that far. Having said that my car only does 0, 6, 10 and 14 Amps so I would gain no benefit from a continuously-variable charger paired with a 4-level car).
Smart electricity controls:
We have two systems for smart control of electricity:
The immersun to maximise self-use of our solar electricity by proportional control of loads.
A HEMS to manage the purchase of electricity (when necessary) at the lowest price by maximising consumption when the price is lowest.
When both systems want to enable loads (because the bought price is low and we have a surplus from our own panels) then cost is prioritised, so we’ll buy from the grid any demand not being met from our own panels.
Both systems are linked to 3 devices:
Battery storage. The immersun is configured to work alongside the battery storage with the battery storage as the top priority to receive surplus solar PV. The HEMS can switch the status of the battery as required to charge from the grid when the price is lowest, or to discharge when the price is highest, or indeed to revert to default behaviour.
Car charger. Second priority for the immersun after battery storage.
Immersion heater. Third priority for the immersun after car charging.
I have no firm plans for the future. I’m toying with adding to the HEMS various features including:
Making the display switch between GMS and BST as appropriate (it’s all UTC at the moment).
Edit configuration via the web interface rather than a virtual terminal.
Control a domestic appliance. Our washing machine was replaced relatively recently, but the dishwasher is playing up a little and may be a candiadte for HEMS integration where the optimum start time is selected to deliver lowest energy price.
Late last year I started adding the ability to optimise my electricity price by shifting some electrical loads around in response to a dynamic electricity tariff. My electricity price changes half-hour-by-half-hour and day-to-day, with the prices for the day ahead published each afternoon. I already had the ability to manage the same electrical loads to maximise use of the output of my own solar panels for some 3 years. The first load smartly controlled to follow my electricity costs was my electric car charging, but I have subsequently added optimisation of water heating and storage battery behaviour.
However, time has revealed an occasional issue arising when both the bought electricity price was low and a solar suplus was available, so both sources sought to enable the car charger; but in practice the vehicle didn’t charge. The issue here is that the car charger does a sanity check on the radio signal indicating that it should be operating, which fails since the combination of two signals driving a common radio transmitter can lead to excessive duration of the ‘on’ signal which fails the sanity check.
My chosen solution is to disable one of the two signals sources when the other wants the car charger on. I’ve chosen to make the price signals via the HEMS the master, so when the HEMS wants to charge the car HAT #4 opens so that the ImmerSUN no-longer has influence over the car charger, and HAT #1 is used to control car charger behaviour. When the price is relatively high HAT #4 remains in the normally closed position and HAT #1 is open allowing the ImmerSUN to control charging behaviour via its output relay to use any surplus solar. (HAT refers to HArdware on Top – accessory circuit boards that mount on top of a Raspberry Pi. In my case board with 4 output delays. HAT #3 is currently unused.)
My current energy management arrangements are designed to maximise use of the output of my solar panels for lowest energy cost by diverting any excess to PowerVault storage system, car charger or immersion heater. I can also manually configure the PowerVault and ImmerSUN to minimise costs of bought energy from the grid (I get 7 hours of cheaper night time electricity) by setting time periods for charging.
However as I move to a smart meter and smart tariff then I’m looking to start automating the selection of when to draw power from the grid based on costs that change half-hour-to-half-hour and day-to-day. The hardware to achieve this is illustrated here. To the right is a Raspberry Pi – a small computer with a wide range of connectivity – and to the left is a module that sIts on top and has four relays able to switch mains loads, although at the moment I only anticipate needing 2 of them.
One of the relays will switch the boost input to the ImmerSUN to enable water heating, potentially when electricity is cheaper than gas, and a second relay will operate the transmitter that turns the car charger on alongside the ImmerSUN’s relay output during the cheapest available energy times.
The image to the right shows the timers that can be used to enable the ImmerSUN outputs to draw power from the grid. I never use this for water heating as currently gas is always cheaper than bought electricity, but do use it to more or less effect seasonally to charge the car from cheap night rate power when there isn’t enough daytime solar. For the new HEMS I plan a table of 7 days specifying the number of hours required for each output and let the HEMS find the cheapest half hours to deliver the total hours required and enable the charger or water heating as required.
In the last few days I’ve reported our status on electricity generation from our solar panels and our gas consumption, so here comes some thoughts on electricity purchase from the grid.
Starting in late 2015 after the meter was changed to Economy 7, there’s a general downward trend from November 2015 to March 2016, before my car charger project kicks in maximising use of my own solar electricity to charge my car (when available) which causes a significant drop in purchased electricity between march and April 2016. That seasonal saving gradually drops through the autumn, although it’s interesting that by November 2016 we’re back on what seems to be a continuation of a downward trend from January to March 2016. Electricity purchased is also significantly lower than 2015 as we enter the second year.
The second significant change is the addition of the storage battery in December 2016. However from January to August 2017 (yellow) electricity purchased is significantly below the prior year (magenta) – potentially showing the benefit of the battery in saving electricity generated during the day to reduce consumption later in the day. This benefit largely disappears from September to December 2017, presumably because my increased vehicle mileage after my daughter started school is offsetting the prior savings.
2018 (orange) generally falls somewhere between 2016 and 2017 as it combines both the storage battery and the higher vehicle mileage throughout the year to date.
My charger control project relies on the electric vehicle tracking the charge current set by the external EVSE / charger to maximise use of the solar panel output. Most vehicles would readily follow such a signal, but not the Ampera.
The Ampera is designed to default to charging at 6 Amps when using a Mode 2 cable (that is one with a household plug). Such a cable normally signals 10 Amps to the vehicle (a safety margin inside the UK’s 13 Amp domestic plugs) but the Ampera is designed to draw only 6 Amps by default.
To enable the Ampera to charge at 10 Amps the user has to permit this for every charging event individually.
This screen is reached by selecting Charging | Charge Current. Typically I would push the button in the driver’s door to open the flap over the charge port / vehicle inlet and then select the charge current via the touchscreen before leaving the vehicle.
Current limit from EVSE / Amps
Current drawn by vehicle / Amps - 6 Amp setting
Current drawn by vehicle / Amps - 10 Amp setting
With my Ampera, if the 10 Amp setting is not selected, then the EVSE / charger risks going into an error condition as the Programmable Logic Controller (PLC) expects the control signal from the ImmerSUN to turn off after a few minutes as rising vehicle current should cause the ImmerSUN relay output to cycle on and off around the available current limit. If the 10 Amp setting is effectively disabled then one might not reach the point at which the relay cycles within a reasonable time which the PLC will detect as an error.
On Wednesday an unusual pattern of vehicle use occurred (at least for me) which showed another way the charger could be used. I needed to take my daughter on a round trip in the morning (dad’s taxi), return home, and then repeat the trip later in the afternoon. Each round trip pretty much exhausted the range of my electric car, so I needed to recharge in between. My normal home charge routine would have prioritised the home storage battery, but that would have left me completing the second round trip partially on petrol which isn’t the optimum solution.
To fully recharge the vehicle to complete the second round trip (and thus avoid using petrol) I disabled the programmable logic controller (PLC) on the car charger using a push button which suspends the program causing the charger to operate at full power. It was a sunny day (at least for March) so the solar panels were producing a similar amount of power to that required to charge the car and, with the fixed battery partially charged during the period I was making the first round trip, the fixed battery was able to manage the difference between power generated by the panels and that required by the home (including car charging) for much of the period.
The result was an almost fully charged car for the second round trip (sufficient to avoid using petrol) for only around 1kWh of grid energy.
It’s now over a year since I built my solar-powered car charger which is enabled automatically by surplus electricity output from my solar panels, but can also be run on a timer when required to use cheap night-time power too.
However since then a new product has come to market from myenergi (a new company led by some of the team responsible for developing the ImmerSUN) which provides the same sorts of capabilities although in a professionally-produced solution. I don’t own one, I’ve never used one, but I think that this is a solution which I’d be seriously considering if I hadn’t already made something similar.
The only downside that I can see is that it’s available in either Type 1 or Type 2 forms with tethered leads only, so if you have a mixture of EVs then a single Zappi may not be compatible with all your vehicles; whereas a charger with a Type 2 socket outlet would be.