Software apps and online services
I admit to being a tiny bit obsessed with monitoring utility bills and gathering data on my usage patterns blow-by-blow. The energy monitoring has reduced my electricity bills, so I wanted to have a go at the water usage. Granted, a lot of the water bill is fixed supply costs and sewerage charges, which I can't do much about.
A while ago, I made some pulse counting breakouts with the DS1682+ RTC. I have finally gotten a chance to put them to good use interfacing with my mechanical water meter. The water meter has a spinning permanent magnet and in principle this can trigger a reed switch and generate pulses for accumulation by the RTC.
As a processor board I am using the Sparkfun Blynk development board. It not only has an i2c port, but also sports a well placed pad to solder the deepsleep enabling resistor between GPIO16 and Reset pins. You can see this connection illustrated with a Nodemcu below. The deepsleep is super important in this battery operated set-up to conserve power. The DS1682+ RTC consumes uA's in standby mode and in deepsleep the ESP8266 power consumption comes down to similar levels. The duty cycle is pretty low. The ESP8266 wakes up for around 10s every 5minutes to do a registration onto my WiFi guest network, DHCP itself an IP, perform a DNS look-up of my custom Blynk server and send a custom message with RTC count. More details on the code here.
I had acquired a while ago at the markets in Salmanca and did not quite live up to the task of powering a phone and had horrible soldering on the switches and USB connectors which had all but broken off. Surprisingly, the lipo still had charge, and the solar cell did an okay job keeping it topped up. It actually has a nice lipo charger circuit which deals with the variable output from the solar cell without too much fuss, and a boost converter to supply 5V for phone charging. I by-passed the boost for added efficiency and soldered directly to the lipo, and the USB connector for the boost port was broken anyway.
Since the unit will be operating outside without proximity to power for extended periods of time I wanted to make it solar powered. So I scavenged some solar cell + lipo packs I had acquired a while ago at the markets in Salmanca and did not quite live up to the task of powering a phone and had horrible soldering on the switches and USB connectors which had all but broken off. Surprisingly the lipo still had charge and the solar cell did an okay job keeping it topped up. It actually has a nice lipo charger circuit which deals with the variable output from the solar cell without too much fuss, and a boost converter to supply 5V for phone charging. I by-passed the boost for added effciency and soldered directly to the lipo, and the USB connector for the boost port was broken anyway.
To count pulses I made up a probe with a simple reed switch from Jaycar encapsulated in a bit of heat shrink. Putting some hot-glue on it before heat shrinking makes a nice weather tight sealed probe which slots into the meter. Proper ones pre-sealed in weather proof ABS cost similar amount on eBay and I have ordered a couple on slow-boat from Hong Kong.
To host the data and visualize the water usage I wanted to try something new. So I decided to give setting up a custom Blynk server a go. I have plenty of experience with AWS, so I spun it up on a t2.nano instance for a trial, and IP locked it to my home IP. The Blynk app on Android can authenticate against this instance of Blynk server and push applications and fetch data. Since I have this tiny server all to myself, I can choose very high frequency updates or very low in this case.
Data shows up on the Blynk app as a time series without any hitch and I can clearly spot the 3 family showers and a dish washing session, with me being guilty of the longest shower. Oh well, at least we have a baseline to improve on. The only remaining concern is that the meter reader considers that I am tampering with the meter like this guy who hid a magnet in a wheelie bin. Better contact SA Water proactively and plead my innocence. This might also have other uses such as leak detection in farms. In the future, I am looking at using a hall-effect latching sensor to do high flow rate measurements. It will require 3-wires and draw a few more microamps than the Normally-open reed switch, but I think I can live with that.