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~ ☀️ Solar sockets - Delivers power only on solar energy surplus

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Fig: Solar socket.

I recently installed a couple of smart electrical sockets. The sockets only switch on when there is a solar energy surplus: when my rooftop solar panels produce more than the current energy consumption. I use these ‘solar sockets’ to charge the battery of an electric bike, for air conditioning and for charging other smaller devices. This post describes the components needed for such a system with the aim to inspire similar build.

  1. Solar panels and a solar inverter with some form of readout.
  2. A device to measure electrical energy use in a home.
  3. Smart sockets with an easy to use API.
  4. Some software to glue everything together.

1. ☀️ Solar panels and inverter

Most solar inverters have some form of API to readout the current solar panel output. In my case I use a SMA inverter which has two ways to extract this data: via Bluetooth and via wired ethernet. I found the wired ethernet solution to be the most reliable. The SMA inverter does use a somewhat annoying data formatting protocol but luckily there is an open source solution to decode the data: SBFspot

For SMA inverters, and possibly for others as well, there another option: the data is also automatically uploaded to a cloud based platform. This platform has an API which can be used to extract data on solar energy production. I do not like to be dependent on external cloud based software platforms, which might change at any time. Additionally, for real-time data cloud based platforms can be slow.

2. Measuring total electrical energy use

To measure total power use, I use an “Eastron SDM220M” measurement device which communicates with a server over a serial connection. There are adapters to translate serial Modbus to USB. The device is installed in my wiring closet by a professional: it is directly connected to the 60A mains and I would not advise to DIY it.

Alternatively, some places are equipped digital energy meters which might have a way for direct readout or readout via a cloud based API, after a few minutes. This might suffice for a solar socket install.

Energy use measurement might not be strictly needed for the ‘solar sockets’: if energy use is predictable it might be ok to simply switch the sockets on your average peak solar power. Perhaps combined with a local weather API. Finally we need to switch on some sockets.

3. Smart WiFi Socket

There are many smart WiFi sockets on the market. Most come with a smartphone app which allows you to control the socket from anywhere. Behind the scenes the sockets communicates with the vendor’s cloud based system over the internet. Additionally there are some integrations with systems like Apple Home, Amazon Alexa en Google Assistant. For fundamental
infrastructure like sockets in my home I want to avoid dependencies on a external cloud based systems. Next to the concerns about privacy and ownership there is a very practical concern: the cloud based system might just stop working in a few years. Especially any dependency on a Google service is suspect. Also I am not convinced of Amazon Alexa’s future.

Luckily, there is Tasmota which provides open source firmware targeting many types of ‘smart’ devices including smart sockets. The tagline for Tasmota is ‘Total local control with quick setup and updates’. I bought a couple of Nous A1T Tasmota Smart WiFi sockets which come with Tasmota firmware. Switching the socket on is done by sending an HTTP GET request to an url, which can be scripted easily. There is some

4. Control software

A script glues everything together: it logs energy usage and solar output. It switches on the solar sockets when a surplus is detected and switches again when the surplus is gone. There is some additional logic which ensures that the socket remains on for at least an hour even if there is no solar surplus. This to ensure that batteries are charged to a minimal usable state.

In summary, here we presented a couple of building blocks to build ‘solar sockets’ which are on only when there is a energy surplus. By using simple API’s offered by Tasmota and locally running software, there is no dependency on (in the long term) unreliable cloud based systems which ensures the longevity of the build.

As an additional bonus, the solar sockets also serve as an indicator. A small LED shows when they are on, or, in other words, when there is solar energy surplus and when it is a good idea to switch on other electrical appliances.