Living Sustainably
in the shadow of climate change

March 2015
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Monitoring my utility and generator power sources
Filed under: General, Geek Stuff
Posted by: Guy @ 6:30 pm

A week or so ago we lost power for two days due to a powerful wind storm here in Maine.  Our Generac propane powered automatic standby generator fired up and started running shortly after the power went out as it is supposed to do, but it failed to transfer its power to our property.  I was able to go out and stop the generator and then restart it, and the transfer switch worked this time.  I had our service technician come out and do some maintenance on it yesterday and he told me that this sometimes happens with Generac generators like mine.   Sometimes the automatic transfer switch does not switch over from utility to generator sourced electricity, he said that there was no known fix.  This concerned me considerably, since we could be away from home and the generator would be running away uselessly not powering the house.  

Since I am someone who has been embracing the “Internet of Things“, my techno-fix to this problem was to web enable my power sources.  What this means is I used my ioBridge device to monitor both utility and generator energy.  Any time either power source goes on or off I am emailed a status report.  (The ioBridge is powered by its own un-interruptible power supply so it continues to report in the absence of power so long as we have a connection to the web).  Today, the generator did its routine self test to charge its battery and circulate fluids and I got these two emails:

I also have set up a private webpage that lets me know if the utility power is on/off or generator power is on/off.  This way I can be certain what is happening and take steps as needed.  For instance I could call a neighbor to come over and restart the generator if it is not powering our home while we are away.  Now I can sit on my couch in the house (or anywhere in the world!) and pull up my energy status webpage, or check my email on my Kindle Fire and know where my power is coming from.  The generator is so far away that we cannot see or hear it from the house since it is on the back side of my barn/workshop.

3 Responses to “Monitoring my utility and generator power sources”

  1. RJ Says:
    Seems like the next logical step is to bypass the native generator transfer switch control with your own programming. Since you already have power monitoring it would seem straightforward. Somehow I doubt the transfer switch relay fails, it must be the logic portion.
  2. Guy Says:
    RJ - you think like an engineer. I’m definitely considering some kind of fix like that.
  3. Guy Says:
    A note to anyone with an ioBridge. The interface I used to monitor power was just an old 5V smart phone charger. I cut the end off and added a 1K resistor in series with the 5V output (to safely limit current). I soldered the resistor and GND to a 5 pin header (pin2=DigitalIN and pin4=GND) and plugged it into a port on the ioBridge. Now I know the status of the power at that outlet. I have one plugged into an outlet backed up by the generator and one that is not. Simple! :)