Almost all of us depend on electricity to keep our homes functioning. It's an essential basic requirement for modern living. However, the power grid on which we rely is growing more and more unstable, partly due to bureaucratic meddling, partly due to "green" energy policies, and partly due to an ever-increasing demand placed upon it. In combination, those factors make it increasingly unwise to assume that power will always be available whenever and wherever we need it.
There were approximately 10,000 energy projects in April designed to produce more than 2,000 gigawatts (GW) of collective power waiting for permits from federal and state agencies to connect to electric grids across the United States.
The problem is, that is nearly twice the collective electricity output of the 1,250 GW now being produced by all the nation’s power plants, most of which were built to generate power using fossil fuels.
Therefore, two bottlenecks are looming—more power is trying to squeeze into an inadequate grid and coal-fired plants are being retired faster than new plants using renewable energy sources such as wind and solar are being built to replace them.
“The United States is heading for a reliability crisis,” Federal Energy Regulatory Commission (FERC) Commissioner Mark Christie warned on May 4 in a hearing before the Senate Energy & Natural Resources Committee.
“I do not use the term ‘crisis’ for melodrama, but because it is an accurate description of what we are facing,” Christie said. “I think anyone would regard an increasing threat of system-wide, extensive power outages as a crisis.”
There's more at the link.
States have their own local issues with power supply, over and above national ones. Here in Texas, we're facing a shortfall in reliable power generation capacity in the near future.
Public Utility Commission Chair Peter Lake on Wednesday warned that Texas' main power grid is at risk for outages this summer if wind turbines don't produce enough electricity when it's needed. He yet again made the case that more on-demand power sources, such as natural-gas-fueled power plants or batteries, need to be built to make the grid more reliable.
. . .
"The Texas grid faces a new reality," Lake said Wednesday. "Data shows for the first time that the peak demand for electricity this summer will exceed the amount we can generate from on-demand, dispatchable power, so we will be relying on renewables to keep the lights on."
Lake based his statements on the grid operator's seasonal report that studies how much electricity the system is expected to be able to produce in various, low-probability scenarios, compared to demand.
The Electric Reliability Council of Texas found that the grid might not be able to meet a very high demand for power at the end of the typical work day if it coincides with extremely low wind and an extreme number of unexpected outages at other plants. ERCOT also found that low winds and very high demand after sunset could also cause power shortages.
The demand for energy has increased as the state's population and economy grow, Pablo Vegas, president and CEO of ERCOT, said at the news conference, and wind and solar energy production has increased much more than coal- and gas-powered production to meet the electricity needs.
"So as a result, we are expecting to have to rely more on renewables during peak conditions than we ever have before," Vegas said.
Again, more at the link.
Therefore, we'll do well to plan ahead, assuming that our electricity supply may become unstable, and figuring out alternatives to help us cope with short- to medium-term outages. Obviously, everyone's needs will be different. However, here are some of the steps I'm taking to prepare our home for that incipient reality.
- Generators are great, but they also demand fuel, and it's hard to keep enough on hand for an extended power outage. For that reason, smaller generators (being more fuel-efficient) are often a better choice than larger ones, and they're also cheaper (important if you're on a budget, as we are). However, don't get too cheap! Quality is important in a generator, and there are plenty of horror stories about bottom-drawer units that simply quit after a day or two. Better to spend more to buy higher-quality equipment. After careful investigation, I went with a WEN mid-size dual-fuel inverter generator for our home. I keep enough fuel on hand (gasoline and propane) to run it intermittently (not all the time) for a week or two, if we're careful. For longer than that, if we're not able to buy more fuel, we'll have to "go dark".
- Food preparation is obviously important. We have some propane-fueled stoves, including the classic Coleman camping stove and a much larger model from Camp Chef, and enough fuel to keep them running for a couple of weeks. We also have a couple of so-called "rocket stoves", including the Solo Stove and the Ecozoom Versa, and I'm putting aside enough smaller sticks and twigs to keep them burning for a few weeks. (Rocket stoves have the huge advantage that one can find fuel for them almost anywhere, unlike propane stoves.) I've also bought a few extra low-cost pots and pans from thrift stores, because cooking over a sooty fire is hard on cookware, and I don't want to spoil our good non-stick stuff by treating it that way. (Lay in some high-strength detergent to clean the soot off them. You'll need it every day. How do I know this? Trust me. I know this!)
- Clothes need to be washed. I've set up two five-gallon buckets with lids, and a hole in the lid to accommodate a mobile washer agitator like this one. (One could use a stick, for that matter.). They'll handle smaller items easily enough, and I keep sufficient laundry detergent on hand to be able to cope for a month or more. We also have an outside clothes line to dry our laundry.
- Lighting is a factor. We have a number of LED flashlights and lanterns that'll do for short-term use, and our (smallish) generator will power a light or two on extension cords if necessary. I'm wary of using candles too much, due to the fire hazard, but we have some on hand if necessary.
- Cooling the house in a Texas summer is essential. We don't have a really big generator, so we couldn't run our whole-house HVAC system, but we have a couple of window and portable units that can be powered by a smaller generator. They'll keep some rooms livable for the short to medium term, and I keep enough fuel on hand for a couple of weeks.
- Heating in winter is more of a problem. I have a Dyna-Glo kerosene heater for the main room, and a couple of Mr. Heater propane units for smaller rooms. I'm also doubling our supply of firewood for the fireplace. That may only heat the main room, and imperfectly at that, but it's a whole lot better than nothing! We should be able to cope for up to a couple of weeks if necessary.
- The biggest problem will be losing our freezers. We have a lot of meat in them, and if the power goes out, it'll be hard to keep that from spoiling. They don't demand much power, so in the short term we can run a generator to keep them going: but it may come down to a choice between having an air-conditioner, or keeping the freezers cold, or trying to balance the load between the two needs. It won't be feasible to keep that up for more than a week or two. We may end up inviting all our friends to an all-you-can-eat barbecue, and the neighborhood dogs as well!
Those are just a few ideas. I'm sure readers have many more. Please tell us about them in Comments, so we can all learn from your experience. Thanks!