This month’s Net Work focuses on some energy-saving and monitoring resources as well as looking ahead to the future of nuclear fusion.
At the time of writing, the United Kingdom is currently exporting some 2.2GW of electricity through its interconnects to Europe, while importing 1.1GW from Norway at the same time. As mentioned last month, the Gridwatch website www.gridwatch.co.uk gives a very useful summary of Britain’s energy production and usage, remembering it’s for guidance only.
UK Electricity National Grid Status
The ongoing stability and resilience of energy supplies are probably foremost in everyone’s minds. It now seems likely that cash incentives may be offered to UK consumers to help shift energy consumption to off-peak periods.
Britain’s National Grid spells out the picture for the National Transmission System (the gas network) in its Gas Winter Outlook 2022/23 at https://www.nationalgrid.com/gas-transmission/document/140921/download (pdf, 51pp); the winter forecast for electricity is published at https://www.nationalgrideso.com/document/268346/download (pdf, 25pp).
Net Work readers will probably find the website of National Grid ESO more enlightening, see https://www.nationalgrideso.com/.
The Electricity System Operator manages all of Great Britain’s electricity supplies, and with it comes the job of balancing the nation’s energy supply and demand. Their own annual ‘Winter Outlook’ is published at https://tinyurl.com/2ee2bz4f).
It’s obviously no bad thing if smart meters and In-Home Displays (IHDs) change energy consumption habits for the better. There are also smartphone apps available that will work in conjunction with your smart meter data, or they can work in lieu of an In-Home Display – useful if your supplier has yet to provide an IHD or yours has been lost or damaged. One example is the Loop ‘Smarter Meter’ app. available free from your mobile platform app store, or see https://loop.homes for details.
^ The Loop ‘Smarter Meter’ app display your smart meter data on your smartphone or tablet and can help optimise energy consumption.
As PE readers know, a kWh rating relates to kilowatts drawn per hour and calculating an appliance’s running costs is simple enough, excluding ‘standing charges’ of up to £270 per year. A handy online Electricity Cost Calculator at https://www.sust-it.net/energy-calculator.php includes tariffs for all major countries and gives the total cost of electricity consumed over a set period in minutes or hours. For UK readers, information about the current ‘price cap’ will be found on Ofgem’s website at https://www.ofgem.gov.uk/information-consumers/energy-advice-households/check-if-energy-price-cap-affects-you.
^ Nuclear fusion has been accomplished at laboratory level. The next step is to scale it up. (BBC/ YouTube)
The drive towards renewable and green energy continues, with the UK Government announcing an initial £20 million investment into a pilot plant to explore whether nuclear fusion could become a commercial reality. A nuclear fusion power station would harness the energy of plasma generated at temperatures ten times greater than the sun and shaped by electromagnets within a tokamak, a Russian acronym that translates as “toroidal chamber with magnetic coils”.
The next stage of research is to build the UK’s first prototype commercial nuclear fusion reactor. The site of an obsolete coal-fired power station at West Burton in Nottinghamshire, England has been chosen for a new Spherical Tokamak for Energy Production (STEP) fusion reactor, which the UK Atomic Energy Authority says will have many features of a fully operational power station.
^ The design proposal for the Spherical Tokamak for Energy Production (STEP) fusion reactor, the UK’s first nuclear fusion reactor which will be built at West Burton, Notts.
STEP will connect to the UK’s National Grid and is expected to produce net energy (ie more power than it consumes) although it is not expected to operate commercially at this stage. The first phase is to produce a concept design by 2024 as part of a 20 year research programme, and it should be commissioned by the late 2030s. A local BBC news clip explains more at https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=HOxunnbY75g and the UKAEA describes the STEP proposals at https://ccfe.ukaea.uk/research/step/. An overview program (pdf) is downloadable at https://step.ukaea.uk/wp-content/uploads/2022/10/UKAEA-STEP-Programme-Overview.pdf
^ The multinational ITER nuclear fusion plant under construction in the south of France. It is hoped that ‘first plasma’ will occur in 2025. (Photo: © ITER Organization, April 2022)
Other research into nuclear fusion taking shape includes the world’s largest tokamak called ITER, which is being built as a huge multinational research project in southern France. It’s hoped that ‘first plasma’ will take place in 2025 with full operation getting under way around ten years after that. There is a vast wealth of very interesting background information at the ITER website, see https://www.iter.org/
The brand TP-Link is well known for its wide range of entry-level and mid-range network peripherals. I’ve been trying out a ‘smart’ mains socket from TP-Link’s budget Tapo range that has an energy monitoring function to help users keep an eye on power consumption.
As described in this month’s magazine, I’m using a couple of P110 Mini Smart Sockets on my home mesh network. The smart socket is both Alexa and Google Assistant compatible, so it can be operated via voice control with a smart speaker. Various ‘smart actions’ and automation routines are built in and Tapo is now IFTTT (If This, Then That) compatible. See https://ifttt.com/tplink_tapo for a small number of IFTTT automation routines. The TP110 smart plug costs typically £10 if you shop around and more details are at https://www.tapo.com/uk/product/smart-plug/tapo-p110/
< The TP-Link Tapo P110 is a budget smart socket with energy monitoring features.
A cheaper Tapo smart socket (the TP100) does not include energy monitoring. TP-Link also lists an older range of ‘Kasa’ smart devices which needs the Kasa app instead. The Kasa equivalent of the TP110 is the KP115 Mini Smart Plug with energy monitoring. There’s a lot of misleading or outdated information about these ranges online, but the Kasa and Tapo platforms are incompatible with each other so it’s easiest to stick with one line or the other. The Tapo line is the cheaper, entry-level system but will be adequate for many users wishing to add just a smart device or two, to control small appliances, table top lights or radios etc, especially using Alexa or Google to control them, perhaps using a smart display.
Apart from smart sockets, there are countless energy-monitoring plug-in adaptors with built-in LCDs that display and log power consumption. The versatile Brennenstuhl PM 231 Wattage & Current Meter displays voltage, frequency, current, power factor (cos ø) and power output, and it calculates the total energy consumption, running costs (with day & night tariffs) and runtime. Due to the design, it may not fit some British mains wall sockets that are near floor level and, strangely, the LCD is not backlit. The UK manual of the PM 231 can be downloaded from https://www.brennenstuhl.co.uk/en-GB/products/travel-adapters-adapter-plugs/primera-line-wattage-and-current-meter-pm-231-e-gb. There are many unbranded alternatives on Amazon and eBay.
^ Brennenstuhl’s Wattage and Current Meter PM 231 measures power usage, efficiency and costs along with other useful parameters. UK version shown.
That’s all for this month – as always, fuller details will be found in my Net Work column in Practical Electronics magazine every month.