Organic Prepper: How to Deal with Rolling Blackouts: Notes from South Africa

In this article from the Organic Prepper, a South African writes notes about dealing with rolling blackouts and alternate forms of power like generators and solar power. It has some good information on battery cycles and reducing your loads. While I haven’t seen as much damage to equipment from power outages as the author of the article, it does happen. Some power utilities will help you put in a whole house surge suppressor. Our local utility will put one in at the meter for around $6 per month charge.

Living in South Africa we have had our share of rolling blackouts nationally. The cause: nefarious activities. The result being us forced to find ways to ensure we are not affected as badly.

The problem is better now, but it has highlighted that it is not just a South African problem, but in actual fact a Western world problem. We all are totally reliant on a massive aging infrastructure that can come tumbling down like a house of cards, with or without help.

Another problem is the cost to keep the national system operational. In some areas, it is not a priority to resolve the regular failures.

For getting started with backup power, remember that NEEDs vs WANTs –  a huge price difference.

  • UPSs – with like 2 up to 8 100ah batteries. Good for a number of hours depending on use – most cost-effective solution
  • Generators – works for some, but cheap ones cost more as they damage some electrical appliances over time.
  • Solar inverters and panels – power failures, what is that? And you save a lot of money afterward IF YOU DO IT RIGHT.

What is also good to know, when the power goes off, switch off your distribution board, leaving just the light plugs on. When the power comes back on, lights come on, wait a few minutes for the grid to stabilize, before switching things on. We have lost computers, internet modes, freezers/fridges, alarm systems etc, damaged when the grid goes off and back comes on. UPS’es have the best protection for this.

How does one solve the issues from frequent blackouts?

Here are some pertinent notes from my own experience.

  • Older fridges/freezers have a huge start-up current, necessitating a bigger inverter and they use a lot of kWh over 24 hours. Upgrade them to an A++ or even A+++ model, as soon as you can. It will save you on utilities and can be powered longer on batteries.
  • Lights: obviously CFL and / or LED, and not cheap LEDs. They are cheap for a reason. Test the wattage, it may be more than the claimed wattage “saving” you nothing. Check the claims lumens.
  • Putting lights on solar is not a “savings”. It is actually an increase in cost for batteries are more expensive per kWh than utility power costs per kWh because lights are use when there is no solar power. So switch to the best lumens for the lowest watts, and switch the light off when not in use, biggest saving ever.
  • Stove/oven/kettle – entire kitchen – on solar power is doable, but expensive. Utilities are cheaper. Kettle take few minutes to boil, microwave also a few minutes, why spend more on inverter and batteries to power them. Use gas. Gas per unit of power may not be cheaper than utilities. Check what you are paying for each.
    Maximum savings are: Switch off at the wall, not in standby, for all the standby power adds up to a lot of power paid for, yet not used.
  • When all the occupants of a house are asleep, say 11pm – 5am – how much power is used during that time? Excluding alarms and outside lights – which have a motion sensor to switch on. Figure this out and find places to cut.

The Rules of Running Backup Power Efficiently

Right, now that you have a few notes to consider, here are the rules that we have found important when using backup power like a generator.

The very first rule: NEEDs vs WANTs

Needs are much cheaper than wants, like you WANT to power your entire house during a power failure, or do you just NEED to power very selected devices like a fridge, lights, cell phone chargers?

The second rule: Know your loads and runtimes and match the batteries to that…

Click here to continue reading at the Organic Prepper.

California Power Outage Commentary

Canadian Prepper has a video up discussing some of the aspects of the planned power outage of many Pacific Gas and Electric (PG&E) customers in California – around 800,000 customers out of power by my last reading of the news. Many people are unprepared for the outage, and news sources show that many are unaware of how much in their daily life relies upon the power grid operating. Canadian Prepper discusses a little bit about why outage is happening as well as addressing the various “theories” floating around about it being a government test or a grid down test.

CalFire recently updated their communication plan and excluded amateur radio as a resource with the belief that other technological solutions have made amateur radio obsolete as an auxiliary service. As a result, many amateur radio repeaters will probably start to disappear as the financial support for them to remain in the antenna sites where they are currently located dries up. While this outage is relatively short, it will be interesting to see how communications are or are not affected and, if these planned outages continue into the future, whether any degradation of emergency support communications becomes apparent.

Amateur radio operator and off grid communications blogger/vlogger Julian/OH8STN also has some commentary on the outage and Canadian Prepper’s video.

I spend an enormous amount of time talking about off grid Communications, and Communications in a grid down scenario. Today many Californias find themselves, in an artificial grid down scenario. These Californians are without grid power, after PG&E shut down the grid for liability and safety concerns. These type of things can happen anywhere in the world. One positive aspect of situations like these is what the rest of us around the world, can learn from them.

The last video I did in the grid down Communications for preparedness series, was focused on emergency backup power for communications. It seems only fitting that I’ll share that video at the end of this post.

The Canadian prepper just published an excellent video, discussing the California Power Outages. I’m sharing that video here: Nate discussing the Massive California Power Outage: What’s Really Going On?

I often “feel” no matter how many videos we make on this topic, or how ever often we try to spread the word, people still believe they won’t find themselves in a grid down scenario. People say it’s too expensive, too complicated to this or that. Perhaps you’ll simply start with a renewable power source for your Communications gear.

San Francisco Chronicle: ‘I’m Overwhelmed’: PG&E Power Outage Leaves the Ill and Disabled Struggling

CBS: This is ridiculous: Residents Fume Over Power Outage

In an unprecedented move, nearly a million people have had their power cut in Northern California. The state’s largest utility, Pacific Gas and Electric or PG&E, is trying to prevent its wires from sparking wildfires, but that move is sparking anger.

The power outages began early Wednesday as California residents loaded up on essentials for what they say is a “man-made disaster.”

PG&E has been forced to shut off electricity to customers because a forecast of high winds and bone dry heat is expected to put pressure on its aging and faulty infrastructure. It is a desperate attempt to avoid what happened in November when sparks from power lines ignited the fire that tore through the town of Paradise, killing 86.

Ron Blasingame lost his power at 2 a.m. and he could be in the dark for days…

OH8STN: Emergency Power for Communications

Amateur radio enthusiast, blogger and vlogger OH8STN (Julian) has posted the second video in his Grid Down Communications series. In this video he addresses peoples’ concerns with how they will keep their communications online when the grid is down, including batteries, solar generators, solar panels, and other alternative power.

Washington Examiner: Start Prepping! Electric Grid ‘Prime Target’

The Washington Examiner has a short article up summarizing the findings of a recent 90+ page National Infrastructure Advisory Council report on Catastrophic Power Outage Start prepping! Electric grid ‘prime target’ of terrorists, ‘profound threat,’ says council.

In a new report that warns that the electric grid is the “prime target” of terrorists, Americans are being urged prepare for the up to six months without electricity, transportation, fuel, money, and healthcare.

“People no longer keep enough essentials within their homes, reducing their ability to sustain themselves during an extended, prolonged outage. We need to improve individual preparedness,” said a just-published report to President Trump.

“There needs to be more individual accountability for preparedness,” adds the report, “Surviving a Catastrophic Power Outage,” from the President’s National Infrastructure Advisory Council and published by the Department of Homeland Security.

It looked at the potential of a power outage of up to six months and recommended Americans have enough supplies on hand for a minimum 14 days, a standard for some prepper organizations.

“Build a Culture of Preparedness includes objectives to incentivize investments that reduce risk, including pre-disaster mitigation; closing the insurance gap; helping people prepare for disasters; and better learn from past disasters, improve continuously, and innovate,” said a key recommendation… A prior governmental report also called for presidential action to protect the grid. That report warned of a threat to world order in an attack…

Some of those warnings from the report are below:

  • Given the growing frequency and severity of disasters and other risks, there needs to be an increase in individual accountability, enterprise, and community investment in resilient infrastructure.
  • There is a misconception that events occur infrequently.
  • There needs to be more individual accountability for preparedness.
  • Resilience at the state and local level will be critical to enable people to shelter in place and facilitate faster recovery. Any event that requires a mass evacuation will use up critical resources, clog transportation pathways, and reduce the workforce necessary for infrastructure recovery.
  • Electricity, fuel, clean drinking water, wastewater services, food/refrigeration, emergency medical services, communications capabilities, and some access to financial services have been identified as critical lifeline services that would be needed to sustain local communities and prevent mass migration.

Read the entire Examiner article by clicking here.

Off Grid Ham: Introduction to AC Inverters

From Chris at Off Grid Ham, An Introduction to AC Inverters. Even if you’re already happily running all of your ham radio equipment off grid, at some point you might wish you could run something that wants 120V AC. If you’re not a ham radio operator, and you’re looking into running some household stuff from a battery/solar system, then you also are probably interested in learning something about AC inverters.

AC inverters are like other technology in that during the early  years they were very expensive and didn’t work particularly well. Over time they were tweaked and improved and today inverters are better and less expensive than their ancestors. I suggest including an inverter in your off grid plans even if you don’t think you need one because the day may come when it will be an essential asset. Furthermore, if you have any intentions of owning a larger solar energy system to power common household devices, then a familiarity with AC inverters is a must…There are three basic types of AC inverters on the market: Square wave, modified sine wave, and pure sine wave. Which one will work for you depends on what you plan on powering and of course your budget…

Click here to read the entire article at Off Grid Ham.