Friday, September 9, 2011

SoCal Power Outage

The power grid glitch that left millions without electricity yesterday in parts of California, Arizona and Baja, Mexico was reportedly caused by a power company employee switching out a problematic piece of equipment in Arizona. Some people aren't buying that, and claim there must be more to the story. I'm not one of them.
This just illustrates how vulnerable the national grid is. The distribution system is running very near capacity if such a minor occurrence can bring it down, even if only for a few hours. Of course, if an unintentional act can bring it down, consider what an intentional act might do. It wouldn't have to be anything as dramatic as a suitcase nuke on Hoover Dam, either. A few firebombs in strategic locations could just as effectively cripple large parts of the national infrastructure.
I was reading some of the online comments about this story, and amid the usual "conservatives" blaming illegal aliens and "liberals" blaming tea partiers, there were a couple of interesting nuggets of, if not wisdom, at least food for thought. The first was someone who opined that the federal government should invest in our infrastructure (invest what, exactly?) and the second asked, "where is all the solar power Obama promised us?"
 I have some advice for those people, and anyone who will listen: stop sitting around waiting for the government to take care of you. You can buy a backup generator that will keep a refrigerator and a small air conditioner running for as little as $200. You can buy an inverter that will do the same for well under $200, although you will have to spend at least $500 on a bank of golf cart batteries or the like to power it, and a charger to keep the batteries charged when the power is on. A setup like that would at least keep you going for a few hours. Better yet, do both while you can. Later on, add one of those under-$200, 45 watt solar panel sets to help keep the batteries charged without needing fuel.  Do you think there is never going to be another power outage? Even somebody working at McDonald's while supporting a family can occasionally invest $200 in preps. That is the best thing you can do, not only for yourself and your family, but for the country too.
Consider that last point. Nowadays, the government tries to convince us that individual prepping and self-sufficiency is suspect at best, bad for the country, bordering on terrorism. Believe it or not, there was a time when the government told us it was our patriotic duty to be as self-sufficient as possible. It doesn't take much brain power to realize that the latter sentiment is closer to the truth. If the grid goes down in your area and you switch over to your offgrid power system (no matter how rudimentary) for the duration, switching off your main breaker and waiting until you know power is restored in your area before switching it back on, you have just reduced the load under which the grid will be laboring when it does come back. That helps to prevent problems from the sudden startup surge, and it protects your appliances from the voltage spikes that accompany that surge. It also keeps you from needing to be rescued if the situation persists for several days or longer, which makes the job of the recovery teams easier. In short, preparing for this stuff in advance is win-win all around. Think about it.

Here is a video of a makeshift backup power system I threw together during the tornado event a few months ago, when the grid was down for several days. I have a better setup here now.

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