Sunday, September 7, 2008

Post Mortems on Power

Just a few observations post Gustav...

It is easy to overlook the small things, and a few small things can make riding out a storm much more pleasant. I had all the big bases covered - water, food, shelter. What I missed when the power was down was a quick and easy way to make a cup of coffee. I don't even LIKE coffee, but somehow, someway, having a hot cuppa cafe mocha while you're sitting in a dark room listening to the wind rock the house is comforting.

Storm-riding can be damn boring. Sitting alone in a dark, humid, hot room gets old pretty quick. You can only sleep for so long. A few good books, board games, art supplies, some knitting, ANYTHING helps. But, you need some light you won't feel guilty about using.

While in the Corps, I had an earlier version of this stove. It was a fast and easy way to heat water, and used any fuel from avgas to alcohol. I missed it dearly. Sure, I had charcoal and other ways to cook, but they were too much effort for a beverage, and impractical to use indoors.

Half of the city was wandering around looking for a way to charge cell phones.

Generators are loud and expensive to run. Ours (5500 Watts) burned 25 gallons of gas per day, running at approximately half load. That much fuel is rarely easy to procure during a storm, and somewhat of a pain to stockpile before one.

You don't NEED A/C, a full-size refrigerator and TV, all the normal comforts of home during a natural disaster. A small fan, a 12v electric cooler, some light, a tiny combo TV/radio to stay up on the news, and you're golden. That stove I linked earlier? It'll easily heat a typical room if a blizzard is more likely to be your likely disaster.

Toss in a cell phone and a netbook, and you're better off 90% of humanity today, and 100% of all the humans that lived more than say, 50 years ago.

Don't count on your computer or the internet for either entertainment OR information. Too many ways for the infrastructure to fail. Radio is your reliable friend.

I can see a real market for cheap, temporary, micro-power generation. I mean just enough juice for a small LED light, a battery charger, and that coffee. The latest generation of netbooks from ACER, HP, or Dell wouldn't overtax such a system.

A wind generator is the perfect choice for a hurricane - you know there will be a breeze. I'm talking something the size of a sat dish, max, that could be thrown up or taken down in a few minutes.

Another idea would be a micro gas generator. Something powered by a tiny four-stroke engine, 50 cc max, maybe as much as half that size. It could run quietly for days on a five gallon supply.

Of course, a solar power panel would be handy in some cases. The ultimate setup would be a system incorporating all three - you'd be covered in any situation.

Bikes are a great way to get around after the crisis winds down, but before things are back to normal. Many hybrid bikes are on the market - even Wal-Mart sells one. It would seem a simple undertaking to design one that could charge a battery as you cruise around the city looking for that hotspot. :-) Done right, the battery would be compatible with your home wind/solar/microgen system. Add a trainer for the bike, and you could human-power your system indoors during the emergency if needed.

More exotic options exist. Two that come to mind are fuel cells, and thermoelectric generation. But, both of these options are much more pricey, though recent interest in hydrogen/methanol fuel cells for automotive use will eventually change that. However, after your battery bank is fully charged, your home system could switch to production of hydrogen via electrolysis for even greater reserve power capacity.

Well, let's see how much of this stuff I can scrounge before Ike gets here. :-)


IMHyde said...

You need to manufacture/patent your ideas. Then the next time you could either ride the storm in style or getouttaDodge in your private jet or copter (paid for by your storm inventions)!!! BTW, thanks for the posts; it sure was refreshing to get the real story. I hope your eye/face is doing much better.

Rick said...

Everything you need for emergencies is at (Emergency Essentials). Good stuff; 72 hour kits with good survival stuff. (Most emergencies need 72 hours before things start getting closer to normal.)

I've ordered stuff from them in the past: good prices, good service, good products. (I have no association with them other than as a satisfied customer.)