Repeated brownouts and cheap IoT

I’ve been fairly lucky with power the past several years. I keep my electronics generally on UPSes after frying a couple of power supplies in the 90s, but there’re a whole lot of things in my house that simply cannot be UPSed in a reasonable fashion.

tl;dr – guy with world’s most stable electric service gets to see what it’s like when it breaks.

For me these include my 11 billion smart bulbs, my Sense Home Energy Monitor, a water sensor hub, LED overhead smart lights, and whatever experiment I have working this week (which at this point is three projectors and a PS5 that’s been complaining that I’m not shutting it down correctly… sorry man, it’s the grid’s fault.)

The past month we have had somewhere in the neighborhood of 20 power outages at my house. This is about 20 more than in any given year. I recall telling my youngest daughter once that the power had been out twice in her life for less than an hour, and I think that was last year so six years of nothing more than a blink.

As such, I never got to experience the glory of what happens when brownouts, rolling blackouts, and general power hell happens. With the cold snap last month we had rolling blackouts, roughly 13 if I recall. First ones in Tennessee for 80something years if I remember correctly. Issue was we had a couple of power plants just not working and highest energy demand ever because for some reason people didn’t want to freeze to death.

Power going off every 1.5 hours or so caused a new and interesting IoT issue every time. From devices just not connecting to the WiFi unless I once again turned them off and on again, to a UPS draining to the point of death and somehow not triggering a shutdown, my days were filled with trying to keep a VPN and two locations alive while dealing with my house occasionally looking like a rave.

Yeah, turn a smart bulb on and off enough times in a short timeframe and it switches to blinking mode.

The brownouts started a couple of weeks later… during 70mph winds. These caused the IoT things to do new and unexpected things such as reset all configurations. I have smart plugs that say they’re working and are on or off but they’re not. Solution generally is to unplug and plug back in. Nothing gracefully resumes I’ve found also… not just on cheap IoT, things like a washer that browned out during a wash, a stove (yeah, not sure I would want it resuming but something to think about,) there’s not a lot of resilience built into things.

Might be a good thing, but the light bulbs are killing me going into setup mode. Having to go to the basement to reboot the Sense Home Energy Monitor every third blackout seems stupid… can’t I get a battery backup for that thing so I can see when I’m doing things in the electric panel? What if I switched to a different power source because the electric is out (generator,) no tracking until after power’s back up… meh…

The setup modes generally exit on their own, but man, dealing with 5 minutes or so of a lightbulb flashing multiple times a week when there’re brownouts is some next level annoying stuff.

Watching UPSs signal for things to shut down and then them just ignoring that has lead to some fun… that’s what took out my work computer a couple of weeks ago.

Eh, that’s about it.. I’d just never experienced a lot of power outages at once and when I did I noticed that IoT devices become annoying, UPSs don’t force graceful shutdowns and charge significantly slower than expected.

I could probably make a complaint that living in a city that keeps putting above ground power lines in drives me nuts, but honestly for the area it’s been fine… just a really really really bad month.

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Paul E King

Paul King started with GoodAndEVO in 2011, which merged with Pocketables, and as of 2018 he's evidently the owner. He lives in Nashville, works at a film production company, is married with two kids. Facebook | Twitter | Donate | More posts by Paul | Subscribe to Paul's posts

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