Monday, May 23, 2022

The power grid is getting more vulnerable by the day

 

If you haven't already got a backup emergency generator, now might be a very good time to invest in one.  Hot Air reports:


The North American Electric Reliability Corporation (NERC) has released its latest reliability assessment for the summer of 2022 and, to put it mildly, the news is not good. In far too many states, the power grid is already nearly at full capacity, and in the next few months, that capacity will be exceeded. This isn’t a question of “if” or really even “when.” It’s just a fact ... When demand for electricity exceeds supply, the utility companies will either have to begin a series of rolling blackouts in all of the affected states or the grid will suffer crippling damage and be down for months.

. . .

A minimum of 14 states will be hit by this in a rolling sequence. As water levels fall, you eventually reach the point where your ability to produce hydroelectric electricity from dams diminishes. Meanwhile, there are 40 coal-fired power plants scheduled to be taken offline in the name of fighting climate change. No replacement sources for all of that juice have been proposed, to say nothing of having them come online.


There's more at the link, including possible fixes for the problem.  Sadly, all those fixes will take time - at least a year or more - to improve the situation;  and until they're in place (if they're even started, under this feckless administration), the problems will get worse.  If you rely on freezers to preserve your food, or if you're in a climate zone that requires air-conditioning in summer and/or electrically powered heat in the winter to be livable, you will almost certainly be impacted.

A generator isn't a solution on its own.  You need to plan for how often, and how long, you intend to run it.  Calculate the amount of fuel your generator uses per hour, figure out the maximum time you'll need to run it, and that's how much fuel you need to store (in a secure place outside your home, such as a garden shed, due to the fire hazard) to run it.  Given today's fuel prices, that's a not insignificant expense - perhaps as much as, or more than, the cost of the generator itself.  Smaller, more economical generators have a big advantage here compared to large, whole-house units;  but the smaller ones won't provide enough power to run every appliance or system in your home.  It's a trade-off.  I've chosen to run a smaller, dual-fuel inverter generator, and rely on a free-standing air-conditioning unit to cool just one room in our home, rather than buy a generator big enough to run the main HVAC system during a power outage.  That's not an ideal solution, but it's one we can afford.  YMMV, of course.

You also need to secure your generator against theft.  My gunsmith bought a powerful generator last year during the big Texas power outage.  Within a week it had been stolen from his porch, where he'd chained it to a big upright to keep it "secure".  The thieves simply cut the chain with bolt-cutters and made off with the generator while he and his family were asleep.  I'm working on a plan to run our generator inside our garage - and before you scream, it can be done safely and securely, provided you know what you're doing (and provided your local building and safety codes allow it).  See:



I know several people who've bought an RV generator exhaust venting system and installed it on the exterior wall of their garage, boring a hole through the wall to connect it to their generator.  In every case, it's worked well, and keeps their costly equipment securely locked away from light-fingered passers-by.

Forewarned is forearmed.  We know these problems are coming.  Let's address them as best we can while we have time to do so.

Peter


20 comments:

  1. Good points. And running a generator DOES require some type of exhaust setup, even if under 'cover'.

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  2. If gas water heater is in the garage, could the generator's exhaust connect to the water heater's?
    Maybe also get a natural gas generator instead of gasoline.

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    1. In such a set-up, my concern is the corrosive agents of the exhaus gas.

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  3. In a SHTF condition, a genset is nothing more than a vestigial attempt to maintain the status quo. I prefer learning and living congruent to the old ways.

    However, if providing for the occasional rolling blackout is the objective, a genset is acceptable. But that has been well known for decades so why now the discussion?

    Because a temporary interruption followed by restoration of power is not the aim here. Therefore, back to my comment about living by the old ways.

    Note: By old ways, I mean before manufactured means for refigeration.

    [I used to live where every windstorm meant power out for 2 or five days. Being on the coast, the windstorms were like clockwork half the year. And like always, the power did come back. In the meanwhile, the concern was mainly how to reduce loss of refrigerated food items. (Heating was by wood stove.)]

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  4. Its truly a marvel that portable generators today offer 7Kw and more. It really is amazing to have that much energy provided by so light a machine.

    The talk of how to hide the gen and exhaust (sight, sound, and smell) plus how to feed the beast without going broke tells me this isn't about occasional use.

    Forming a collective of likeminded persons instead of each family operating as a standoff entity (power generation is the subject) makes better sense. That naturally segues to defensive strategies, a concern better resolved by having enough wagons to circle the wagons, know what I mean ?

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  5. I see my 5KW generator as being a stopgap for winding down our refrigeration; run it intermittently for the fridges/freezers while we either eat, can, or otherwise figure out what to do with the frozen food. Once the boxes are empty, drop back to a small unit for running a few lights and charging what needs charging every day. Given the efficiency of LED lighting, I can light the entire house if desired with a 1000W unit. That being said, know that electric light will attract more than flies in a grid-down situation...

    I concur with having a standby roll-around or "windowshaker" A/C to use when on genny power. I live in the Desert Southwest so A/C is a quasi-necessity. It's an unfortunate reality that houses are built around having uninterrupted power for HVAC, instead of being built to stay cool naturally.
    Our central unit went down during a 110*+ week; not unusual for here. It was three days before the A/C guy could work on the unit. We put a roll-around unit in the living room. I had the exhaust hose shoved up into the fireplace flue, which worked quite well. That little unit kept the living areas of the house at a livable 81* all day long! Amazing, actually!

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  6. If one is going to go to the trouble to install a genset for multi-day use, putting it in a concrete block structure that would take jackhammers to breach, and trenching power connections to the normal distro panel would seem to be a no-brainer.

    If one had a sense of humor, getting ahold of a dead smaller genny, and replacing the guts with a concrete block, lightly chaining it in harm's way, and rigging it to battery-powered screeching alarms and auto floodlights would seem to provide both comedy relief and potential target practice.

    YMMV, but some problems are always best solved with lead.
    Be sure to leave the bodies at the corner intersection utilty pole, with handy cardboard "LOOTER" signs ready to hand around their necks. In a crisis, law enforcement is generally spring-loaded to go for obvious solutions to easy questions.

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  7. If you have a few days for testing, unplug your chest freezer and monitor the temperature. Test how long and how often you need to fire up the genny to keep the freezer at the temps you want. I've read some claims that folks only need the genny on for 1 hour per day.

    Going to get my testing going this week.

    Also, if you don't have temp sensors / alarms in freezers that are holding increasingly expensive meat get them ordered now!

    I'm using these and am happy with the five wireless sensors: Ambient Weather WS-3000-X5

    If freezer temp goes above 10 degrees, the audible alarm goes off until the temp is back down.

    -Brent


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  8. If your lacking money for a alarm and temp probe a bottle of water half full frozen sideways and the left upright will let you know how unfrozen your stuff is. Still frozen or mostly so your good. Fire up the genny. If mostly slushy and near the bottom of the bottle edible and you can re-freeze it with loss of some quality. All wet on the bottom but still cold BBQ time, call the neighbors.

    Also please test your plans before use. I had a neighbor frantically looking for one more extension cord to reach his freezer during a nor'easter power failure. Same neighbor asked for a computer strip as so to be able to plug in extras while the genny was running, like cellphones and lights.

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  9. The noise of a generator is a dead givaway: "They have a generator; they may have food".

    In my case, my generator powers my well pump. But in a SHTF situation, I'll get up in the wee hours when people are least likely to be around and listening, turn it on for an hour to fill the water tank, then kill it again. Low probability of interception (not zero of course).

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  10. Dometic sells an expensive line of coolers/freezers that pull about thirty watts and run off of 120vac or 12/24VDC. I rigged a test set up of a cooler with a 100W solar panel and a Dometic-branded 12v LiFePO4 battery; seemed to be a viable long-term grid-down solution. I'd rather not find out the hard way, though...

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  11. Nitzakhon the wee hours will still have eager visitors probably wandering around looking for stuff to grab while folks are "Sleeping". Chicken thieves, garden harvesters and such.

    Not to mention the dangerous night visitors who want to get tactical advantage.

    At least in every third world country I visited has plenty of night rats.

    Replacing the generators stock muffler with a good automotive muffler, putting that vibrating monster on a good rubber matt as not to have a percussive track, surrounding the whole with hay bales at least one bale higher than the generator helps a LOT.

    I am assuming you need 220 volts for the well pump, so you need a pretty good-sized generator, otherwise I suggest a small inverter Honda as they are very quiet.

    Also figure out a solid way to secure that generator. High value target for theft.

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  12. If your generator will be wired to the house don't forget the transfer switch at your main panel so you get power from the grid OR your generator but never both.

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  13. One of the benefits of an inverter generator is that they are relatively quiet. Ours can barely be heard out on the street. They also use less fuel since they self-adjust based on the load. The downside is they are twice the cost of a conventional generator. You just a matter of picking your poison.

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  14. A generator is a short term fix. With the amount of electric cars that are entering the workforce the power grid is going to fail. The bluer your area the more likely you will see brown outs or black outs.

    I am building a house right now. I will have a solar panel array feeding a battery bank to an inverter that powers the house. It will also have a 5.5KW duel fuel generator as backup if shore power is unavailable. The power company will have little power to contribute to the house. Solar panels and the inverter technology has gotten much cheaper but the battery tech has plateaued. I am looking at an 10-11 year break even with another 14 year of no cost except for replacement battery costs. Then a new inverter and new panels. Lithium batteries are more cost effective right now but it is also the most expensive. lead acid is cheap storage but needs to be replaced every 5 years. The Lithium batteries last 9 to 10 years.

    I will never own an electric car. The saying "don't rob Peter to pay Paul" rings true for electric vehicles. Here in NE Atlanta the electric vehicles are powered by mostly nuclear, some natural gas, and a small percentage of coal. My mother-in-law has a hybrid Lincoln that is 10 years old 60k mile car that needs a new $8000 battery. With a good battery she gets 40+ mpg. Right now she is getting 18mpg and is too cheap to replace the battery

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  15. There is no way this isn't planned. President Trump would have been getting this out on the airwaves. Our weather is no more drastic today than it has been my whole life. They are planning these outages to destroy our frozen stocked up meat. We are stocked up and they know it. They will cut the power long enough to ruin our frozen food. Then restore power and cut it when we have stocked back up. People need to build food cellars.

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  16. W/respect to the generator in garage thing... isn't there an HVAC vent in your garage, per a recent post? Either way though, I'll just say: CO detectors. Multiple CO detectors. Because generators are *not* cars, and they emit even more CO than cars, because they (for now...) can. And CO is nasty stuff. Seriously scary, partly because nobody usually thinks about or really grasps just how dangerous it really is. It does leave "pretty" corpses though. Pink cheeks and all. *Shudders*
    |
    Speaking of wells/pumps: hand pump. Or battery backup, though I'm not sure how that would work.

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  17. As has been mentioned, generators are short term and run only for needed limited period for specific task.

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  18. I agree with Bibliotheca Servare that having (non-mains!) CO detectors/monitors is a Very Good Idea. While I've never had a close call with CO myself, I've had friends and at least one relative that did - and got *very* *VERY* lucky they were awake and realized the headache was 'wrong' and didn't just an aspirin and a forever-nap.

    For those unaware, CO is not a mild thing by any means. I dug into the biochemistry once and there is a set of four levels of some cycling. Mammals have four, that is. The deeper the level affected, the nastier the poison and the lower the chance of recovery. CO goes down to the deepest level, just like cyanide. Yup, that's how nasty it is.

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  19. tsquared:
    The main problem with lead-acid batteries is that drawing them down damages them, so they loose capacity. IIRC, the first time you kill a car battery (wont start), you have lost 25% of the storage capacity after recharge. Each time you kill it, you loose some. You need a huge amount of batteries to keep from doing that damage. Too many bad weather days, and you will drain them too far. Repeat this a few times, and pretty soon you have VERY limited energy storage, just when you need it the most. Get the Lifpro type, and call it good. Trying to make do with the old L/Acid types is a false economy. It's not a second car, it's your home and life.

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