Renewable Energy Innovation

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Re-innovation has been involved with numerous renewable energy projects, from very small-scale off-grid systems, through to large-scale multi-kilowatt grid-connected systems. Here are details of some of those projects. If you think we could help with your project, please This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it. to discuss your requirements.

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We were asked, by a good friend from Wild Stoves, to produce a portable solar PV off-grid power supply system.

Wild stoves supply equipment for efficient outdoor cooking on wood. They run workshops on efficient burning of wood and sell equipment at a number of festivals over the summer. We had been asked to add solar to their 50's caravan a few years ago.

They wanted to be able to provide higher levels of energy to the festivals they attend, but wanted all the equipment to be portable, all parts to be moveable by one person and to fit within a specific space (within a Land Rover and then under a caravan).

Together we designed a 3 box unit with 200Ah of Lithium Iron Phospate batteries at 24V DC, an 800W solar PV array with MPPT and an 1200W inverter unit. This also has battery montioring, various controls for the outputs and 12V outputs for each box.

 This post covers the design, build and testing of this system.

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 We were asked by Nottingham City Council to design and produce a selection of renewable energy demonstration kits for use with school groups of various ages. They needed equipment which could be easily assembled and taken apart, but were still configurable to a number of different designs.

These are to be used as part of a day of activities about resources, energy efficiency and renewable energy. They wanted kits to demonstrate the concepts of solar electricity, wind power and hydro (water) power.

Here are photos of the designs we eventually came up with - this included small solar car kits, wind turbines with adjustable blades and a micro hydro turbine.

 

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The Latrine Logger was developed for Water For People.

Water For People is an international non-profit working across 9 countries to bring safe water and sanitation to 4 million people.

Water for People want to see communities break free from the cycle of poverty and spend time growing, learning, and thriving, instead of walking for water and fighting off illness.

Following on from testing a prototype unit, we have done many improvements and have supplied the Latrine Logger - a data logging unit for monitoring pit latrines.

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We worked recently with our friends at T4 Sustainability to produce some Raspberry Pi breakout boards for their Open Source Building Energy Management System (oBeMS) project.
oBeMS is a project to produce an integrated building management system which comprises of sensors, actuators, control and monitoring systems.

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Every so often a project comes along that would have been the envy of my childhood self. This was one of those projects -  I was asked to build a 8 lane pedal powered Scalextric. This meant putting together Scalextric track designs and testing Scalextric cars.

I was really pleased with the end result, which was built within a 10 day timescale. This blog post shows the design stages.

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I've been working with light artist, maker and NESTA fellow Jo Fairfax, (of Jo Fairfax Studio) on an interactive wall prototype.

He needed to have control over loads of motors which all move circular disks a set distance.

I designed a stepper motor controller unit to control up to 12 motors. These can be repeated to produce very large arrays of stepper motors.

The final effect is amazing, as shown in the videos here.

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From November 2014 until May 2015, I have been one of four "Makers in Residence" at Derby Silk Mill, in the UK.

This has been a slight change of activity for me, as I usually focus on renewable energy systems, but has been a great opportunity to encourage Science, Technology, Engineering, Art and Mathematics (STEAM).

I hope to encourage the younger folk (and all ages!) to get involved with future engineering and technology issues.

I kept a separate blog of my work at the Silk Mill, but here are some details of the work I have done here.

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We have been working with Wind Empowerment to specify the features of an open-source data logger unit for members of Wind Empowerment to use with grid-connected and stand-alone small wind turbine installations.

After discussion at a week long hack camp in Toulouse, France the following data logger system overview was suggested.

We are working, along with other members of Wind Empowerment, to produce open-source designs for each section of the overview diagram.

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Monitoring the rotational speed of the wind turbine blades can help with power performance measurements.

This post shows various techniques to measure the rotational speed of a 'wild AC' output small wind turbine. In this system, the wild AC is rectified into DC and either delivered to a battery or to a grid-connected inverter.

The wild AC output of the turbine can be used to give us the rotational speed.

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We have recently been working with Product Health to develop some hardware for monitoring battery banks in off-grid systems.

Product Health are working on remote monitoring of systems to ensure they are working and pre-empt any maintenance or repair which might be required.

The product specification was to build a low-cost, reprogrammable and accurate unit to measure current and voltage at a reasonably high sample rate and send that data, when called, via a communications interface.

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Following on from the work done for the Wind Datalogger and the Latrine Logger, we are bringing these ideas together to create a Renewable Energy Resource Monitor.

This is a Arduino-based data-logger which has a range of sensors which can measure different weather resources which relate to renewable energy generators. The end result is low-cost and open-source for accessibility for all.

This post explains the problem and will contain information on the prototype as it develops.

This project will be open-source and PCB design, software and hardware designs are available on GITHUB.

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The Prediction Machine is an interactive artwork which aims to engage the public with climate change issues via a fortune telling machine.

Created by the artist Rachel Jacobs in collaboration with myself, Ian Jones (Sherwood Wood), Matthew Gates, Robin Shackford, Juliet Robson, Dr Candice Howarth and Dr Carlo Buontempo.

I designed, built and tested the human-power device and electronic and electrical systems.

Here are some photos of the unit in action and the build details.

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Its very difficult to explain the concepts of power and energy. People often ask me "Can I power my kettle with that?".

So to try and put the energy in a cup of tea into perspective I built the 'Cuppa-meter'.

The 'Cuppa-meter' shows a cup of tea which lights up as the energy required for a cup of tea is generated. This can be plugged into a pedal generator and people can 'feel' the energy required to make a cup of tea.

They can either pedal slowly (and hence low power) for a long time, or they can pedal hard (high power) for a shorter time. The end result (the energy) is the same - a nice hot cup of tea (or rather a lit up image of one).

 This post gives a few images of the cup of tea and also the calculations used.

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Wind speeds are very site-dependant - with topology, ground roughness and other factors affecting the local wind speed. Knowing the wind speed and frequency of the wind speed at a particular location allows us to make a more accurate resource assessment.

An accurate resource assessment is required for ensuring the wind turbines are sited correctly - in locations where they will generate the maximum energy.

This project was to develop a low-cost, low-power wind speed monitoring unit. This has mainly been developed for use in remote rural locations with a specific application to small wind turbines for international development projects.

This project is open-source and PCB design, software and hardware designs are available on GITHUB.

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I have been working along with Nicola Greene (in conjunction with Water for People and Engineers Without Border UK) and James Fowkes (a fellow Nottingham Hackspace member) to look at the issue of data monitoring for pit latrines.

A group of us had a hackday at Nottingham Hackspace to discuss the problem, look at solutions and hack together prototypes.

The problem is described here in a presentation by Nicola. Basically Water for People have been installing pit latrines in various different areas in Uganda. These are filling up at very different rates, but the reason for this is unknown. They need to record the usage of the latrines in a simple, low-cost, robust and non-intrusive.

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There has been a spate of pedal power projects in the re-innovation workshop recently.

This post shows one recently built for Nottinghamshire Healthcare. The pedal generator was designed as a challenge with a twenty second test to see the amount of energy the cyclist can generate. It also needed to be relatively portable (to fit within the boot of a car).

The systems consist of:

  • a shunt regulator (rated at 400W) to dump any excess power
  • a LED bar graph display as a visual read out of power generated
  • an LED display which shows the actual power output in Watts
  • a 20 second test display with an output in Watt-seconds
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I've just put the finishing touches to a pedal-powered DVD player which will be installed at a Stubbington Study Centre in Hampshire.

This pedal generator is designed to be entertaining and fun, while also being educational and robust.

There are three parts:

    • Pedal generator - based on an exercise bicycle
    • Large bar graph display
    • DVD player and LCD screen

In this post I've put up videos of the unit in action, along with build details.

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It is very useful to measure the current against voltage characteristic for a solar photovoltaic panel.

Here I shown how I built an I (current) against V(voltage) curve tracer for solar photovotlaic panels which is battery powered and can be used 'in the field'.

The output is displayed on a full colour LCD display, along with the interesting characteristic information, such as maximum power point, open circuit voltage and short circuit current.

The output is streamed via a serial connection and can be recorded on a computer or using the serial version of the dataduino.

The project files are available on GITHUB.

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Here we discuss options for providing power to the circuit itself.

The input from the renewable energy source will be variable and the input voltage will vary. We need to provide power to the microcontroller 'brains' of the device. This requires 5V DC. Hence we need to efficiently step down the voltage from the input to 5V.

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Measuring voltage is required for the open charge controller project, as we use the voltage to measure the charging of the battery.

Hence we need to be able to reliably and accurately measure voltage. I have written quite a bit before on voltage measurement.

Here are the details on measuring voltage specifically for the open charge regulator project.

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We have been wanting to design, build and supply an open-design, relatively inexpensive but fully functioned charge regulator for solar PV, wind, pedal and small hydro systems for a while now.

The majority of off-grid renewable energy systems are based upon lead acid batteries. Lead-acid batteries need to be protected from over-charging by the renewable energy source and over-discharging from the loads. This can be one with a series regulator (in the case of solar PV) or a shunt regulator (for PV, hydro and wind).

The charge regulator pages here give the full design for a relatively simple but fully programmable and open-source charge regulator. Make one yourself or buy the kit.

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These are the specifications for the open-source charge controller project. These will be used to produce the final design.

This is part of the open-source charge controller project.

 

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This is an overview of the hardware including the overall design and the specifications used to calculate every component.

We will also need to test all of the hardware to ensure it meets the specifications.

This is part of the open-source charge controller project.

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The open-source charge controller project will be based upon a microcontroller.

A micro-controller is basically a small computer. It can be programmed with code which will run when the device starts up.

The control program will be programmed onto the microcontroller. Using a re-programmable microcontroller means we can upload different code to perform different functions. We can also share and change the code as required for different applications.

This is a review of the microcontroller available and the reasons behind any choices made.

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Within the open charge regulator we must control power, either to limit the power flowing into the battery or to control the power flowing to the dump load.

This requires some kind of power switching. This article explains the different types o power switching available to us and the decision on which type of power switch to use.

It also covers testing the chosen device (a MOSFET) and explains how to correctly and efficiently switch the MOSFET.

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The open-source charge controller circuit contains a diode and a MOSFET, which could potentially have up to 20A flowing through them. In this case they will get hot and will eventually fail. We need to ensure that they will be kept within their specific working parameters by keeping them cool. This is done with a big lump of metal, usually called a heatsink.

Here are the basic theory and design calculations to design a heatsink for the charge controller.

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Here you can buy a kit of the open-source charge controller. This includes all parts and a pre-programmed microcontroller.

Full instructions for making your kit are available here.

If you would just like to see the design then please visit the hardware and software pages.

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I needed a data logger which could take a stream of serial data and record it onto an SD card. To do this I based the hardware on the DataDuino and changed the microcontroller code.

This is an overview of the idea and the arduino code required to implement it.

This was designed to work with the pedal power equipment I have been designing.

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T4 Sustainability is an East Midlands based renewable energy design and installation company. Renewable Energy Innovation have worked with them a number of times on various projects.

Recently they were contracted to design and install a solar PV testing rig for Coventry University. This was designed to be used to test PV modules and balance of system components (such as inverters and charge regulators) for both grid-connected and stand-alone PV systems.

They needed to accurately measure the current and voltage, along with temperatures around the system and meteorological data, such as wind speed and irradiance. They asked re-innovation to design and build the current and voltage monitoring circuitry.

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A lot of the projects created here need to communicate with each other, or with other devices.

In order to do this I wanted to implement a standardised communications protocol. Hence any item that is designed here at re-innovation can interface with other items seamlessly.

I decided to base my communications protocol on the Lightweight Logical Automation Protocol (LLAP) from OpenMicros. This was an open format which is simple, easy to implement and human-readable.

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This was a project to pedal power 'Cheese' a theatrical adventure through the twists and turns of a system too big to fail.

It turns out that theatre productions are not usually the most energy efficient performances, using high power lighting and sound rigs. This highly efficient show will be powered using human pedal power.

Three pedal generators were built from converted exercises bikes. The generators recharge a bank of bateries. These will be placed in local gyms for people to earn energy 'credits' for money off the theatre performance. The battery bank will be taken and used to fully power the lights and sound rig for the production.

More details are available at the pedalling power website.

The pedal power system was designed by Magnificent Revolution. RE-Innovation built and installed the remote display unit and installed and tested the pedal generators. This blog post gives an overview of the pedal power system.

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Magnificent Revolution run pedal powered cinema and music events. I have worked with them extensively, mainly on their electrical systems. They have a  8 and a 20-bike pedal power unit which can generate quite a bit of power (around 2kW with 20 riders). They wanted a display to give feedback on the amount of power being generated. It needed to have a large, highly visual display. A remote and wireless display was required as it would save running cables around the equipment.

They asked RE-Innovation to build one. So here it is, along with a run through of the parts and how it all works.

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Re-innovation were behind the original solar car kits used by reaction education. They supply renewable energy and engineering activities for a wide range of educational events. Their main activity is to design, build and race a model solar powered car. The kit includes a number of solar panels, motors, wheels and gears along with a whole heap of general building materials (mainly wood and plastic off-cuts). The participants create a solar car and then take it to the race track to compete against the other teams.

We were asked by Nottingham City Council to design and produce solar car kits for schools which could be easily assembled and taken apart, but were still configurable to a number of different designs. Here are photos of the design we eventually came up with.

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T4 Sustainability are an East Midlands based renewable energy and energy efficiency consultancy. They provide advice on energy consumption and efficiency and also provide MCS accredited installations of renewable energy equipment, including solar thermal system and solar PV.
Recently they asked re-innovation to build a control panel for the control of a heating system for Brambles Housing Cooperative in Sheffield. They have installed a solar thermal system integrated along with a wood burner for hot water and heating. This starts to provide some control challenges as the system must fail safe in all situations, including power cuts.
The temperatures must be monitored and heat dumped to various loads if there is too much heat. The control system wiring was designed by T4 Sustainability, with re-innovation sourcing most of the parts and wiring the panel.

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Renewable Energy Innovation was recently asked to build an exhibition stand and equipment for Engineers Without Borders UK. They wanted the equipment to work with a wide range of ages and at various events. We were commissioned to build a pedal generator with sound system, a rope-washer pump and a small solar PV system. We also built three easy to set up booths, which can be used in different ways for different events.

The first event this will be used at is the Big Bang 2013 science festival.

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I've recently finished work on another pedal powered smoothie maker. This time its a bit different: its designed to fit 20" wheels of BMX bikes.

This was commissioned by London Bike Hub (who already have a large pedal smoothie bike, pedal powered scaletrix and a pedal powered electricity generator from me). They wanted a smoothie bike that was more accessible to younger folk with shorter legs.

Here are some photos and discussion about the build and finished unit.

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This data acuisition (DAQ) unit kit is designed to be robust and configuable but relatively simple. It is based upon the Arduino platform (using the Uno bootloader). It stores data to an SD card and uses a real time clock for accurate timestamping. The fastest resolution is 1 second sampling.

Data acquisition is always useful to monitor a wide range of projects. Knowledge is power. With data, you can monitor your system, make changes and record how well they do and generally improve the things you are working on. Also having real data and real facts is vital if we are trying to prove an effect.

Data is stored onto an SD card. A real time clock is used to timestamp the data and the output is a .csv file.

Sample Arduino code for a datalogger unit is provided and can be built upon.

This unit is available as a kit for £25 (plus £3 p&p) via our shop.

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{jcomments on}Re-Innovation's LED bar graph and energy bike were hired by Bristol University Sustainability department for use at the university freshers fair.

The pedal generator was used as a power generation challenge, with the highest output power winning a fair trade hamper. This meant that it was tested to the max with over 10,000 students visiting the fair and lots of them trying to pedal as fast as possible.

There were a few teething problems (mainly due to difficulties mounting the display onto the backing board) but it all worked well with one student generating 270W of electrical output power! I didn't even know it went up that high!

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{jcomments on}For the past three years I have been running an 'introduction to solar photovoltaics' workshop at the Small Is.... festival and this year was no exception.

The Small Is... festival is a collaboration between Practical Action and Engineers Without Borders UK set in the grounds of Practical Action's headquaters, The Schumacher Centre, near Rugby. The festival is inspired by the ideas and philosphy of E.F Schumacher who wrote the book 'Small is Beautiful: Economics as if people mattered'. There were numerous hands-on workshops, talks and discussions relating to appropriate technology, international development and envirnmental awareness.

This year the standard was raised even higher with a larger venue, more speakers and workshops, amazing decoration and some top-class music.

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Have you ever wanted to build your own pedal powered machine? Fancy making a holiday of it in somewhere slightly more sunny than the UK? Then here is your chance....

Renewable Energy Innovation has teamed up with Magnificent Revolution and Sunseed Desert Project to bring you not one but two in-depth pedal power courses. These will both be run at Sunseed, an amazing off-grid centre for hands-on permaculture solutions and environmental education in southern Spain.

One 3-day course will look at building mechanical pedal powered devices, such as washing machines and water pumps. The other 3-day course will look at building electrical generating pedal powered machines to run sound systems and cinemas.

The courses will run on 20-22nd October (electrical) and 24-26th October (mechanical), or stay for both!

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