The energy transition at home - from the idea to operation. Experience with SENEC, Home 4 Storage, Home Assistant, and much more.

I'll start the description of my adventure into independence from oil and gas at the end. The PV modules are on the roof, the battery storage system is installed, everything is integrated into Home Assistant. And I'm delighted every day to see how cool it is to cover a very large part of my energy needs from the sun (the picture in the article shows the time curve with energy generation and consumption). The integration into Home Assistant was actually the easiest, but more on that later.

I already set out on this path when we were planning our new home in 2018. It was already clear to me at the time that I no longer wanted to be dependent on oil and gas in the foreseeable future. That's why we planned a geothermal heat pump (with appropriate subsidies). The drilling, house connection, heat generation (underfloor heating), hot water, etc. also went very smoothly. Just a quick note here: the heating circuit valves are KNX-capable and can therefore also be controlled via Home Assistant.

All those years I found the charm of PV systems ... rather suboptimal, but that has changed with the new regulations. The subsidy is right, availability has halfway normalized again after Corona, so I requested a consultation with SENEC at the end of 2022 after looking at various providers. Why SENEC? My thought was: they belong to EnBW and will certainly still be around tomorrow and should know how to do something like this. And the "SENEC Cloud", i.e. accessing energy from an account that you can call up again via your own feed-in, also makes an electric car interesting for me for the first time.

Fast Forward: everything has been running since February 12, 2024. Electricity is produced by the sun, the battery is charged and supplies electricity to the house again after sunset. But not at all as it should be. SENEC is currently throttling all storage systems to 70%, which is quite annoying. This is probably because the battery modules currently installed are not safe. And should therefore be replaced. The question is: when?

I will gradually be writing more articles about the various phases of this project and, as always, I look forward to the exchange. Let the sun shine!

My new rocket: Mac Mini 2014

As I have written before, I don't really care which computer I use. I can be an Apple, a Windows machine, or something else. I have an old Mac Mini from 2014 that I use for managing my music library, for some playback, and minor audio editing stuff. Lately, I was more and more frustrated, because the machine seemed to get slower and slower. I took ages until it started and was usable. Also, there was a lot of dead time when the machine seemed to be idling.

So I started to do some research whether I can fix or whether I need something new. The hardware is still good for a Mac Mini: 2.6 Ghz, 16G of RAM, and 1TB hard disc. How to unleash this power again on an 8 year old computer?

I found this step-by-step guide that contains many useful links like cleaning up autostart items, removing slowing down settings with the free tool KnockKnock, cleaning up the hard disc, etc. I found that I have already applied some of these tips but some not. I went through the entire exercise but the results were not that promising. Startup time was better, but responsiveness not.

During my research I have also found some commercial tools helping you to clean and speed up your Mac. You can find a comprehensive description of "CleanMyMac X" here. The software is very powerful and goes much deeper than anything you can do yourself. Besides an initial "get clean" scan, it can be used to "stay clean" and stay happy. My Mac Mini feels like a new machine and the tradeoff is great: 50 EUR for a perpetual license (break even of subscription in 2 years) vs. re-installing the OS and the apps vs. buying something new.

ADDENDUM: after a few days working with the Mini, I still can't believe it. It feels like a new machine and is all fun again. Thanks to the IT god for the healing.

I did it: Upgrade to Windows 11

I am quite dispassionate about operating systems and hardware. I use macOS, iOS, Linux and Windows. Windows has actually been around the longest - since release 2.1 in 1988.

Today, it's important to me that it shouldn't matter which computer I'm sitting at. The data is in my own or a public cloud and the typical office software is also available everywhere. Only a few specific programmes (e.g. for sound, image or video editing) run only on certain machines.

And yesterday, the time had come for my Windows computer (an Intel NUC): the upgrade to Windows 11 was available.

This is always a special moment, as there is the not unjustified worry that it will somehow go wrong. Keyword: "never change a running system!". But hey, he who dares not! The data is not on the machine anyway, system reset point created and off you go ...

... and an hour later I could log in again. That feels like a small IT miracle. Now it's time to get familiar with the new features. Here's to your upgrade going as smoothly.

Smarthome visualisation with HomeAssistant

I had KNX installed in my house to automate one or two things. I started with Hager Easy, but for various reasons it soon turned out to be unsuitable for me. After I got myself an ETS licence and extracted the KNX addresses from the Easy environment, I have various visualisation platforms. There are numerous articles comparing the offers, e.g. here.

Essential criteria for me were:

  • Configuration with little/no programming (although or precisely because I come from computer science: I like it when complex technology is easy to master)
  • Modern surface
  • Wide coverage of components (KNX, Z Wave, HUE, Unifi, Doorbird, Logitech Harmony, Sonos, etc.)
  • Future-proofing (=dissemination, community, release cycles)

I experimented with ioBroker at first, but it was too much work for me to configure. The same was true for FHEM, for example, which was far too complex for me. However, I became aware of the HomeAssistant interface through ioBroker and tested it in parallel with OpenHAB. In the end, I decided on HomeAssistant because I was able to make fast progress, my KNX environment could be integrated with all other components under one interface and automation is very elegant in a mix of visual programming and simple coding (YAML-based). The community is also very large and there are really no questions left unanswered.

I installed HomeAssistant on a Raspberry Pi, you just have to follow these few steps. HomeAssistant also offers a cloud integration with which the control can be accessed remotely. This also makes voice control via Alexa & Co child's play. For geofencing-based logics, I use the app Geofency, which works very precisely and reliably. I use old iPads with wall mounts or the family's mobile phones as displays.

All in all, I am very satisfied with the changeover and the decision to use HomeAssistant. The system has been running for a long time without any major problems and since the release cycles have been reduced, updates are no longer a big issue. It is important to always make a backup that can be activated on a spare platform at any time. I haven't exhausted all the possibilities by a long shot, but that's kind of the point, that there's still a lot of room for improvement.

KNX-based Smarthome with Hager Easy

In my current building project, I had some requirements (more on this in other articles), including that I wanted to make the house "smart". As it was largely a new build, my choice fell on wired KNX technology. This was completely foreign to both my architect and electrician, so for now I was looking for an expert substitute to run the wires. In addition to the KNX lines, the network cabling was also an issue, but that's another story.

I looked around for solutions at Light + Building and the Hager Easy approach seemed to me to be the right one. Why? I was told that an upgrade to "native" KNX was possible and that there was also an IOT integration. With that info, the bus was then set up in the house, the actuators and sensors and switches ordered, and the switches ordered. With the Easy solution (configuration server TJA665), the elements are then identified quite comfortably and virtually wired together. This went quite quickly and was then displayed on a Hager display using the Domovea Server (TJA450). With the IOT Controller (TJA560), HUE components could also be integrated.

So far, so good. But then came the big disillusionment for me. Unfortunately, it is not quite as flexible as I had thought, as non-Easy elements cannot be integrated without further ado (e.g. air-conditioning units, heating and domestic ventilation). Hager also announced - just after I had finished - a new Domovea series. And with that, any further development of the visualisation server and the IOT controller was then also discontinued.

So I quickly decided to bring forward the move to "native" KNX (after just 6 months) and to look for a generic Smarthome platform. The KNX migration went relatively well after obtaining the ETS software licence, I got myself an extra online course for this, which I will also describe separately. I investigated ioBroker, OpenHAB and Home Assistant as platforms and decided on Home Assistant for various reasons.

My conclusion: the decision for KNX was right for me, I would do it again. The decision for Hager Easy was only partly right, because it was a) too limited for me and b) I did not like the upgrade or change policy (there was probably none). I recommend to plan and implement immediately via ETS, because you can draw from the complete range of KNX providers and expand the system well.

P.S.: In the meantime, my electrician no longer relies on Easy, after he saw that the ETS programming is not sooo wild, if you deal with the matter conscientiously. Of course, it requires more planning in advance, but that's exactly what pays off in the long run.