Home Automation Products and Solar Energy

A couple months ago I found out about the SmartThings V2 Home Automation Hub. Since then I've bought variety of HA products that I'm now using with my SmartThings Hub, and I've been learning quite about about all of the trends in home automation technology. Things have come a long way from the old X-10 devices. SmartThings seems be run by a very smart group of people that got their start from a KickStarter campaign that made them attractive to the likes of Samsung who quickly purchased the startup, and seems to be providing support to help them as well. The best thing about SmartThings is that they've created an open API and encouraged users/developers to create their own device managers as well as Smart Apps. I'm using three different brands of smart LED lights; three different brands of motion sensors; Z-Wave, Zigbee, and Wi-Fi devices; and everybody plays together very nicely thanks to the SmartThings Hub.

Inspired by all this, we're very close to releasing a new version of the MegaTracker firmware that incorporates full json data formatting to allow for easier integration with things like the SmartThings Hub, which will follow soon after, and probably with Wi-Fi rather than Zigbee connectivity. The Zigbee Home Automation network communication standards are complicated, somewhat archaic, and designed without any provisions for solar energy. JSON data is the preferred format for IoT communication and easily accommodates a variety of parameters. The ESP-8266 Wi-Fi SOC is shaking things up in the development world and provides easy http server capability for connected devices.

In my research into Home Automation sensors, etc. I was surprised not to find (despite numerous Google searches) a Home Automation voltage measurement sensor that could be used for battery banks. Not one made by anybody...so I decided to make one. I'm still fine tuning some of the details but I now have the following new product in the wings:
- ESP8266 based WiFi Voltage/Contact/Temperature sensor - measures supply voltage, external contact sensor can be used to alert when control panel opened.
- SmartThings Device driver: displays measured values, inputs: IP address, port
- Smart App that turns a switch on/off based on measured voltage, or sends an alert

The sensor automagically does all the hand shaking to connect to your router. Just open your router status page in a browser to find out the device's IP address (that was allocated by the DHCP server), and then input that in the device configuration on your phone. The device driver then pushes out the hub's IP configuration data to that IP address, and the sensor saves it and is then fully connected to the SmartThings Hub!

This is great for things like keeping batteries from being over discharged or making a refrigerator or other appliance run off of PV power instead of battery power. There are some things I only want to run when my batteries are floating, and other things that I only want to run while my batteries are over 75% charged. Now there's an easy way to do this, and products like the Aeon Labs Z-Wave Smart Energy switch ($25) provide a simple and cost effective way of controlling selected devices while also monitoring their KW/hr energy usage. This is a really great way for off-grid solar users to take control of energy usage.

Integrating solar power with home automation has been part of our vision from the beginning, and we are really excited at the possibilities that now exist with off-the-shelf devices that can be leveraged to enable a new level of solar energy management. We've got more we'll be saying about that in the near future so stay tuned!


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