OVERPOWERING A BROKEN GRID
Keeping the lights on when the electricity stops flowing
Ialways hear stories about what will happen if the SHTF and we lose everything that we have come to consider “normal.” I have heard these same stories since I was a kid in the 1960s, and they all claimed we would be thrown back into the Stone Age.
While I find that to be highly unlikely, I do feel we face a real threat to our way of life from natural disasters, terrorism and war. If things get very bad, we’ll lose power, communications and computers. We will lose ready access to food and water and most, if not all, modern conveniences.
But, will we be totally helpless? Not if we plan. I am not a big fan of technology, but it has given us the tools that will enable us to deal with bad things when they do happen.
What will you do when the world goes black? In our modern world, we rely almost completely upon electricity and electronics. Electronic devices run our lives. We do our banking online. We communicate using cell phones, and we navigate using GPS. Even our vehicles operate using multiple onboard computers. The power grids and public water and transportation
IF THINGS GET VERY BAD, WE’LL LOSE POWER, COMMUNICATIONS AND COMPUTERS. WE WILL LOSE READY ACCESS TO FOOD AND WATER AND MOST, IF NOT ALL, MODERN CONVENIENCES.
systems rely upon electricity and computers to operate. If they go down, most people will have no power or running water.
In this article, I will discuss how you can prepare now to be ready to handle this real-life situation.
ADJUST YOUR PERSPECTIVE
We have all been there: A severe storm knocks out the power. All goes dark. It is fun and games ... until you realize that your refrigerator and furnace have stopped working. Most of the time, there is really nothing to worry about, because the electric crews are out there, restoring power quickly so that the disruption is short-lived.
However, what happens if the power stays out for more than a few hours? Perhaps it could be days—or even weeks—before power is restored. What if this situation goes on for months? Are you ready to respond to a situation such as this?
In order to make it through an extended outage, you need to think long term. You need to plan ahead and have multiple plans in place. How will you keep things running? Which devices can you live without?
The fact is that when the power goes out, you never really know when it’ll come back on. Your plans should factor in short-term outages, from a few hours up to a day or two, as well as longterm outages of a week or more.
What if something really bad happens, and the power grid is lost? What then? Although
it is scary to think about, it could happen, so you need to be prepared. You need multiple ways of generating power just in case any or all of them are needed. The trick is to start simple and prepare now. Waiting until something happens is not the time try to figure things out.
There is no such thing as having too many batteries. Always have plenty of D, C, AA and AAA batteries on hand. They will be needed to run flashlights, radios, smoke and carbon dioxide meters, and to charge cell phones, among other things.
The problem with standard batteries, even the best ones, is that they lose power over time. The trick, if there is one, is to review your battery supply every few months and discard the ones that aren’t up to par. I use a volt meter to test all my batteries on a regular basis.
Stock up on batteries when things are good, and make sure you purchase good batteries. Don’t
THERE IS NO SUCH THING AS HAVING TOO MANY BATTERIES. ALWAYS HAVE PLENTY OF D, C, AA AND AAA BATTERIES ON HAND.
cheap-out and get the discount batteries, because “you get what you pay for.” Batteries will be the first thing to sell out during a power outage, so keep plenty on hand now.
Buying batteries can get pretty expensive; for that reason, I also have rechargeable batteries on hand. Rechargeable batteries are no good unless you keep them charged, so do this while you have power to do so or be ready to rig chargers to solar panels. I always keep a few sets fully charged at all times in case I need them.
My rule of thumb is to keep a good flashlight in every room, which obviates having to carry one around and potentially misplacing it. I also have rechargeable headlamps in my gear, which allow me to work hands-free. Last, but not least, I keep a few water-rechargeable lights on hand just for good measure.
Generators are great—as long as you have fuel to run them. I have two generators: One runs on propane and one on gasoline, so I have the ability to use multiple fuels. If the power is out for more than two hours, I will fire one of them up. The key here is to make sure I keep them in working order and have enough fuel for both generators to run for two weeks.
When using a generator, it is important to do so safely. Never run a generator inside a building, and make sure to cut off the connection to the power company’s electrical service main line (consult your utility company or a qualified electrician to find out how to do this). This will prevent you from electrifying the main line, where workers are trying to restore power. Have an electrician install a transfer switch to make using your generator easier and safe.
I only power my refrigerator, furnace and sump pump, but depending on the capacity of your generator, the choice is yours. Note that the more drain you put on your generator, the more fuel you will use. Because there is no way to know how long the power will be out, I choose to conserve my fuel by keeping the electrical load minimal.
Remember: If you have no power, chances are that the gas station and propane vendor will not have
Good-quality rechargeable batteries are your best bet for economical backup power for your small equipment and devices.
While a generator might not be possible in this location, some solar panels will keep your small devices running.
Bottom, left: Installation of a whole-house power backup system isn't cheap, but the right system will keep your gadgets and gizmos working when everyone around you is reading by candlelight.
Below, left: After Hurricane Sandy, many of New York City's residents had few options for alternative sources of electricity. (Photo: Mario Tama/ Getty Images)
Left: When the power goes out, crews will work to restore it quickly—if they can.
Below, right: When destructive storms strike, affected customers often number in the millions. Your street might have to wait weeks for the repairmen to arrive.
Bottom, right: Land lines could be down, and cell service is spotty. Two-way radios such as this Midland GTX might be your best option for staying in touch.
Below: It will be some time before the power company's technicians will be able to get to this home. In the meantime, the residents will need to find alternate sources for water, heat and electricity.
Right: When there is no electricity coming from your utility provider, you'll have to make some serious choices about what you'll be able to run with your backup power source.
Bottom: This control panel controls everything on the Biolite Solar Home 620, including the amount of power being used.
Top: The generator below is connected to a dedicated line into the house. This is much safer and more convenient than using an extension cord.
Left: If you have a generator, be sure you test it periodically. Mix fuel stabilizer in with your gas to ensure it will be ready to go when the lights go out.