I have an analog electricity meter (AEM) and I would like to track my usage of electricity. I've attempted to use the EE-SY310 photo sensor, but that's not sensitive enough it seems. I suspect the black stripe on the dial is too thin to be picked up. The other concern on using any photo sensor is its dependance on light (obviously) hence no reading would be picked up during the night.

Other: I've also found that AEMs work by using magnetic fields to move the dial. The magnetic field detector I used did not show much fluctuation when turning appliances on/off. The dial was pegged at the max. Therefore, I'm not so confident that a sensor to measure magnetic fields would work here, but I'm open to suggestions.

So, would anyone know what sensor would be good to detect the black stripe on AEMs? Preferably to also work without light.

I know there are off-the-shelve products that do this already, but where's the fun in that?

  • 2
    Why not a reflectivity sensor? Commented Jun 25, 2014 at 4:44
  • I didnt think of that. Worth checking.
    – Jose Leon
    Commented Jun 25, 2014 at 5:47

2 Answers 2


A low cost option is the TCRT5000 infrared proximity sensor. While this is designed to sense objects coming close to the sensor, by reflection of the infrared light emitted by the integrated IR LED, it also does very well in detecting black versus reflective surfaces placed near it.

There are two parts to making this work:

  1. Reduce the drive current for the IR LED of the TCRT5000 to the bare minimum which causes detection of the non-black portion of the electricity meter disc. While the datasheet specifies a forward current of up to 60 mA absolute maximum, a quick experiment I conducted shows appreciable detected signal at as little as 4 mA forward current, for a metallic target surface 2 mm away. Tune the forward current to work with the actual distance and reflectivity of your particular electricity meter wheel.
  2. Place a black piece of card or plastic in front of the detector part of the TCRT5000, with a thin slit cut in it to align with the black strip on the electricity meter wheel. I am getting good results using a 1.2 mm plastic sheet with a 0.3 x 1.5 mm slit cut in it.
    Note that the two hemispherical plastic parts of the TCRT5000 look more or less the same, so you will have to identify which one is the detector, and ensure that you do not obstruct the emitter by mistake. The side with the angled vertical edges (right side of image below) is the emitter and must not be obstructed.


With this arrangement, the collector current through detector will dip significantly each time the black stripe passes in front of the detector.


On ALL mechanical watt-hour meters (those with a rotating disk), the disk will have either one or two holes, typically in the mid section or outer edge of the aluminum disk. Utilities used these holes to pass a light beam through (from the top of the meter to the bottom of the meter) to detect and count disk rotations. A simple light source and photo-transistor can be used to detect the presence of the disk hole to sense disk rotations.

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