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North American Power Grid Frequency Meter

10 July, 2015; We are having problems with our meter feed due to an issue with our ISP, as such the meter needle may not always update as it should. We are working on a remedy, thank you for your patience.

The Biggest Rotating Machine In The World

The North American Power Grid is the biggest rotating machine in the world. Well OK one of the biggest. All the motors and generators on the grid are coupled together by the magic of electricity and magnetism. When loads are added to the grid, power can’t be instantaneously added (there are measurement delays, mechanical delays, and the delays of light speed) so the grid slows down a little and uses some of that rotational stored energy to provide energy to the new load. The frequency of the grid goes down a little. Conversely when a load is taken off the grid the energy once supplied to that load (until the regulators can compensate) goes into speeding up all that rotating machinery. And that is what causes the fluctuations on our power line frequency meter.

How The Grid Frequency Meter Works

Measurements are taken in Rockford, Illinois; stored in a json file; then continuously updated to our web server in Hong Kong. Your web browser loads the JavaScript that builds the gauge and the script then continuously adjusts (using AJAX) the needle by requesting the newly updated json file off the web server every 100 milliseconds.

We measure the frequency of the power grid by counting the number of cycles of a much higher frequency between power line zero crossings. The frequency needs to be accurate enough to get the precision we show on the meter. It is. We don’t check every zero crossing. We only check the zero crossings when the line goes from negative to positive. Since there is often a lot of noise at the zero crossings we check seven of them (six cycles) to average that noise out. So the number on the meter represents the average line frequency in Rockford, Illinois over a period of a tenth of a second.

Once the frequency is measured the numbers are put in a very short file and sent over the Internet for display. Then of course the ‘net sends it to you for display on your computer. The round trip on all that is about two seconds depending on the connections and their speed. So what you are actually seeing is the line frequency in Rockford of about two seconds ago.

If we were doing this to control something (like generator speed) we would do it all locally, eliminating the speed of light and transmission through the ‘net computers from consideration.

Controlling The Fusion Plant

The Line Frequency Meter you see displayed here was developed by the Proton Boron Team (PB Team), and is part of the beginning of the Proton Boron Fusion experiments. It uses one of the control processors developed for those experiments to read the Line Frequency, and feeds that data to the meter.

Our project lead electrical engineer, M.Simon, has worked with Clyde W. Phillips Jr. (Head of IT), often using the Forth language in programming industrial controls during their nearly 40 years of association. Simon notes that way back in 2006/2007 when he began studying Polywell Fusion, he planned to use the Forth language to control the experiments and the power plant (once the power plant was developed). Simon and Clyde find that the way they write Forth makes it by far the easiest programming language to read — which greatly improves productivity, testability, quality, and reliability. M. Simon – our CTO – insists on using Forth because in his experience it greatly reduces software development time. A significant benefit to a project of this magnitude.

The rest of the PB Team is balanced out by co-founder Tyler Jordan (who built this website) and Vic Plichota who helped Clyde with tools and advice.

The PB Fusion team can also – for the time being – do other projects. If you need help, just ask.

Hardware — Software — Systems — Forth

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