Preparing for a Blackout
By Cam Mather
As I was preparing to install our new batteries recently I was thinking about blackouts. I spent weeks preparing for mine. We were just going to be without power for a day, but I knew it was coming and got prepared. I had buckets of water standing by ready to use to flush the toilet. We took everything we would need that day out of the fridge and chest freezer so we wouldn’t have to open them. I placed a power box with a battery and inverter beside the stove so we could easily ignite the propane oven to bake the pizza we served to thank the people who helped with the install. I even had a power box beside the solar thermal system so that Michelle could plug the pump in for 5 minutes every hour to circulate the antifreeze. This wasn’t really necessary but boiling your antifreeze causes it to degrade and since it was sunny I knew it wouldn’t hurt to keep it moving once an hour.
In my house my blackouts are always scheduled. I know when they’re coming because they only happen when I’m upgrading my equipment. In my house we’re also infinitely aware of how amazing electricity is and the negative outcome of not having it. It makes our lives pretty amazing so when we’re without it life isn’t so good, as rare as this is. The problem for North Americans is that we take it for granted. Luckily our power grids have been pretty resilient to failures for most of our lives so we sort of assume this is always going to be the case. We expect it when a hurricane or ice storm blows through, but we’ve become pretty complacent. This is a testament to the wonder of the engineers who built and maintain the grid.
But power grids do fail and they fail all the time. I find country people have always been the early adopters of renewable energy because they’re used to power outages. But power outages are becoming quite commonplace throughout the world and I would suggest it could be our fate here as well. Most of Brazil was without power recently when someone hacked into the power grid computers and shut it down. The storms currently walloping the U.S. including Washington D.C. is dumping heavy snow and it’s bringing down lots of trees on to power lines with the resulting power outages. Many U.S. cities in the north are paralyzed. Grocery stores are running low on food, as regular shipments can’t get through. People have been without power for days.
Protection, Automation & Control World Magazine (www.pacw.org) has a regular feature called “Blackout Watch” where they list power disruptions and their causes. So if you are caught off guard and ill prepared for a black out you have only yourself to blame. Both the U.S. and Canadian governments continue to run ad campaigns reminding citizens they should have emergency provisions for three days without help. When your government is telling you “you’re on your own”, you’d better start to listen.
On a recent interview I did on the Survival Podcast, host Jack Spirko liked the story I shared about Bill Kemp and the ice storm of 1998 that left millions of North Americans without power, most for days, many for weeks and some for months.
After several days the military was called out because people were in dire straits. No power meant no heat for many, no food, no water, pipes were freezing, people were a mess. Bill lives off the electricity grid and so when the military arrived he opened the door with heat blasting out from his woodstove, in his bathrobe because he’d just had a hot shower, holding a steaming cup of cappuccino while Mozart played on the stereo. The military personnel looked at their clipboard, looked at Bill and said “We think we know the answer, but is everyone in the home alright?” “Never been better!” was Bill’s response.
You have access today to renewable energy technology that allows you to reduce your footprint on the planet, offers an exceptional financial return on investment and makes your home more resilient to shocks like power outages. So what are you waiting for again?