Town flood, power outage, backup power ideas?

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MrAl
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Town flood, power outage, backup power ideas?

Post by MrAl » Tue Mar 16, 2010 10:35 am

Hello,


In this town we often get flooding and that bothers the businesses and recently
they started turning off the electric power to the entire town which includes us
even though we are not in the immediate area. When Floyd hit 10 years ago the
water level in the center of town went up to about 15 feet (the street was like
a raging river) but the electric didnt go out even for one minute. With this
recent dinky storm however the entire town got turned 'off'. We were without
electric for 14 or 15 hours, but that's not the worse part...the thing is when
the electric goes off everyone has their hands up in the air not knowing when
it will be restored. The whole block is wandering around outside like a bunch
of zombies not knowing anything. The police could only say, "Call the electric
company", so as usual no help from them. The electric company says the wait
time for a rep will be 10 minutes, and then doesnt answer even after 20 minutes.
The really amazing part is that the flood gates that were built after Floyd
hit where not even used as no one shut them. That's what idiots we have here.

The hard part i guess is that everything is down at that point. The computer
can't be used nor anything else like that like the tv or microwave.

So the question is, any ideas for having some power when the line gets shut
down when there is a storm that bothers the town? I guess first would be the
computer and maybe the TV, and i guess the microwave would be last in line
because there are other things to eat that dont have to be cooked, and many
gas products dont work either because they are electrically controlled
(gas heater, etc.)

What are the best "back up power systems" out there these days?
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kheston
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Re: Town flood, power outage, backup power ideas?

Post by kheston » Tue Mar 16, 2010 11:07 am

MrAl,

The power projects you've helped me with go to provide electricity for our place in the Sierras where PG&E hasn't installed power poles. Because I'm worried about theft, I've built a trailer that carries my 8 group 31 12v batteries back and forth between our house here in the SF Bay and the mountain place. When we're not at the property, the batteries sit in my garage with the charger/inverter float charging them.

We have 2 or 3 power outages per year here. Since computers make my living, having no power costs me money. So, when the power goes out, I use my off-grid power station to run my computers when the power goes out here. Power outages only last a few hours at most, but as an experiment, I've left my computers on battery power for ~16 hours. Mind you, I have 5 PCs that run here 24/7, so you would probably get 5 times the running time I do with the same power.

Consumer UPS units are often designed to provide power just long enough to shut your PC down safely, not necessarily for continuous operation. APC and other vendors make larger units, but I think you would be happier with a pure-sine inverter that you could use to power other things than you would be with something designed to run only PCs. Look at what APC wants to run a PC for 36 hours and I think you'll agree that an off-grid power station represents cost savings as well.

Still, we're talking about a considerable investment. My 200Ah/3.6Kw system would cost me around $3200 to replace. I can give you specifics if you're interested.

This battery-based solution is only appealing if you want a silent stand-in for utility power. Otherwise, you can buy very capable tri-fuel generator solutions from companies like Generac for half the cost of what I have. They are much quieter than the portable generator units and will last longer (I own 4 portable generators of various sizes, they are all noisy enough to tick-off your neighbors).

HTH
Kurt - SF Bay

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MrAl
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Re: Town flood, power outage, backup power ideas?

Post by MrAl » Tue Mar 16, 2010 1:00 pm

Hi there,


Hey thanks for the detailed reply. Im looking for as much information as i can find right now as i am not 'up' on
this topic as good anymore.

Your system sounds like it may be a bit bigger than i need, or want to pay out either :smile:

What kind of inverter are you using though and how much did it cost, or did you build it yourself?

I was checking out the prices as you mentioned and yes they are quite expensive and i cant really go with
a generator because the noise is too bothersome and buying fuel for it might be a problem too when the roads
are all blocked up due to flooding.

I would have to go for at least 6 hours run time for the computer, but it would be nice to be able to run a largish
fan too just in case something happens in summer when temperatures can become deadly.

I was also thinking that gee maybe a laptop would be a better idea for the computer part, as that would probably
be cheaper in the long run, but then i'd have to make sure i had all my data backed up into the laptop as well as
the desktop. What do you think about that idea (laptop instead)?
Of course that would not allow running other things though.
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Re: Town flood, power outage, backup power ideas?

Post by sghioto » Tue Mar 16, 2010 2:13 pm

MrAl,

Get one of those 2KW Honda generators made for camping and two 5 gallon gas cans.

Steve G.

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Re: Town flood, power outage, backup power ideas?

Post by kheston » Tue Mar 16, 2010 4:18 pm

MrAl,

sghioto's suggestion in hard to beat. Those Honda EU series gennys are whisper quiet and under $1k. You should certainly consider one as an option. I've run a borrowed Honda EU1000i for a week (12hrs a day) on 10 gallons of gas.

Here's my system break down:
8 12v AGM deep-cycle batteries - $125/ea
FX3649 Outback Inverter - $1950
Outback Mate Controller - $250

In the next 6 mos I plan to replace my 12v batteries with 8 Interstate U2200 6v batteries ($132/ea).

Hope this helps.
Kurt - SF Bay

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Re: Town flood, power outage, backup power ideas?

Post by psycho » Tue Mar 16, 2010 4:33 pm

We live out in the sticks (5 acres). Our power used to go out alot. But, we got a generator and now it doesn't go off as much - go figure...

Anyway, our generator is 7.5kW, I believe. Our house is mostly electric. This generator is able to run our 240v water well pump, *or* our central air conditioner but not both at the same time. I have a 240v plug out in the garage and I have a (somewhat dangerous) cable I made with male connectors on both ends.

When the power goes out, I shut off the main breaker so that the house is not connected to the outside world anymore. I start the generator and plug the cable into the 240v house outlet and THEN plug the other end into the generator.

I keep the water pump and the a/c breakers off unless we actually need them turned on for a few mins to run the water or to get the humidity out of the air.

This system works great for me and it runs our fridge, lights, TVs, computers, etc. We have had it running continuously for more than 15 hours a one time.

Hope it helps,
Kevin

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Bob Scott
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Re: Town flood, power outage, backup power ideas?

Post by Bob Scott » Tue Mar 16, 2010 5:09 pm

MrAl wrote:So the question is, any ideas for having some power when the line gets shut
down when there is a storm that bothers the town? I guess first would be the
computer and maybe the TV, and i guess the microwave would be last in line
because there are other things to eat that dont have to be cooked, and many
gas products dont work either because they are electrically controlled
(gas heater, etc.)

What are the best "back up power systems" out there these days?
My first choice for getting power would be the fridges and freezer. Food costs $ and is handy to have around. :grin: Then there is the gas furnace. You really DO want heat. I remember 2 years ago the power went down for 4 days. We were freezing in the dark in December and we were getting very sick of the smell from candle wax smoke and wood smoke from the fireplace.

The only good thing about freezing in the dark (well, 60 degrees F) is that the food in the freezer stayed frozen for those 4 days.

If I had a house in the country, I think I'd get an emergency diesel generator and look into running it from #2 home furnace fuel oil in a standard home fuel oil 200 gal tank. If it needed a starter battery, I'd change out the electric starter motor for a cheap lawn mower grade gas engine that doesn't need a battery to start it. I'd quiet the exhaust down too with extra muffling so it won't keep neighbors awake, and add some mechanical noise shielding too. Those diesel gensets that they use for making movies on-location are REALLY silent.

The back-up diesel generator at the TV station would be perfect. Its just a 4 cylinder job on its own 2 wheeled trailer.

Or maybe I'd just pick up a used Honda 1KW from eBay.


Edit: 03/17 MrAl, I saw NJ is on CNN this AM. Bad flooding.
-=VA7KOR=- My solar system includes Pluto.

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Re: Town flood, power outage, backup power ideas?

Post by reloadron » Wed Mar 17, 2010 7:57 am

I would suggest a generator. Years ago I had a little 4 KW unit that supported the house just fine, less running the electric drier. :)

It did support the forced air gas furnace, the fridge and freezer all of which are on demand items. Lights, TVs and computers also. That has been since replaced with a whole house, automatic transfer much larger unit but originally that little 4 KW unit fit the bill for us.

The added unit when we refurbished the house in part:
Image

Ron

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Re: Town flood, power outage, backup power ideas?

Post by dacflyer » Wed Mar 17, 2010 8:41 am

if your not wanting any generators because of gas worries, then why not go solar ?
if your just wanting to run a few key items, like you mentioned.
you could make a small solar set up..
a few hundred watts worth of panels, a good charge controller , some deep cycle batterys..
here interstate has a deal on 6- 6 volt deep cycle batterys for golf cart, for about $475.00
and then a decent inverter.. then just run the branch circuits to where you need them, or use extension cords. just do not buy any cheap ol inverter.
might cost you as much as a primo gen-set, but this uses no gas and its always ready and charged up..

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Re: Town flood, power outage, backup power ideas?

Post by haklesup » Wed Mar 17, 2010 7:17 pm

While Generators are the standard solution, the other solutions get pricy quick due to the need for batteries or other perminant installation hardware.

The first thing I would do is use my trusty Kill-A-Watt meter to determine my load requirements by taking a look at the fridge, TV and PC in particular. I already expect that powering all but the tiniest of microwave ovens will be more current than you want to pay for, better just keep a spare propane tank for the BBQ when it comes to cooking. By knowing those figures you can easily estimate your minimum wattage requirements.

In any case if you can find a good price on a high wattage inverter or maybe multiple cheap 200W inverters then upgrade your car's alternator to a heavy duty one, you can essentially use your car as a portable generator. Needless to say, you would be wise to store 5 to 10 gal of gasoline on your property and use it and replace that gas at least every 6 months to keep it fresh. Make sure your gas can fits in your cars spout unlike mine which is only good for the lawn mower. A car idling in the driveway should be quieter than all but the best generators. On ebay right now I see a 3000W for $200 and some 6000W being bid on.

If you do get a cheap generator, look for that made in china label on the display model to know what not to get. I hear those cheapo models at Harbor Fright tools only last a few tens of hours max before something breaks. I'd be less concerned about the inverter as I think you're qualified to fix one or even alter it to make it more robust. I wouldn't bother with the higher cost of a true sine inverter, those are best used in perminant solar installations. Even the PC should tolerate a modified sine.

I think this should be fine for most 2 to 8 hour blackouts. You shouldn't need to worry about the fridge until the 3rd or 4th hour anyway. If you know its going to be a long one, rush to the store and pick up 2-3 blocks of dry ice and pack the freezer. I also tyhink the laptop or netbook is a wise choice unless you want internet and the Wi-Fi is down too. If you're on cable or DSL, theres a good chance the wire is live if you can get power to the router and modem. A decent 3 to 4AH, 12V battery pack should be sufficient for that task. I am unsure of what current a modem and router use. I would think the modem is light but a router might take more if its activly transmitting. Again, use the kill a watt. I'm betting you have one.

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Re: Town flood, power outage, backup power ideas?

Post by MrAl » Thu Mar 18, 2010 8:08 am

Hi again,


Thanks for all the ideas guys. Im not sure what i am going to do yet because everything out there that seems to do the
trick is quite expensive no matter what method is used. Once we get up into the hours of use like 10 hours the price easily
gets up to $1k or much more.
The other concern with the battery type methods is just how often the batteries would need replacement. Probably at least
once every five years or so, and the batteries are the main cost for those systems.

I guess i really have to give this some more thought.
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Re: Town flood, power outage, backup power ideas?

Post by dacflyer » Thu Mar 18, 2010 2:25 pm

there are batterys that can last over 10 yrs or more withproper maintence..
look at "home power" magazine they advertise a lot of batteries, but they are not cheap either..
but that might outweigh the 5 yr batteries..you have to do compare homework..
consumer reports might have a article on batteries also.

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Re: Town flood, power outage, backup power ideas?

Post by reloadron » Thu Mar 18, 2010 3:15 pm

This is one of those things where the decision making has to be based on your needs and requirements.

When I met my wife about 23 years ago her mother was bed ridden, the victim of a brain surgery gone bad. They tried but to get to an aneurism they cut too much away. The result was she was a vegetable. No speach just waking and sleeping hours. No communication at all. Her breathing was initially a trach tube with oxygen running. When they gurgle you use a suction machine to clear the tube. There was a feeding tube also. We went from large bottles of oxygen to liquid oxygen to a machine called an oxygen concentrator (power hungry). Eventually as she got worse with age in came the vent machine to assume breathing when the patient isn't breathing on their own. The vent had 20 min battery backup. After that you either bag the patient or find a big 12 Volt storage battery, Then hope your emergency reserve of oxygen bottles last as without mains power you have no vent and no oxygen concentrator. With more and more support equipment moving in there was more and more of a need for power and the loss of power would be a nightmare real quick.

All of that was my driving force to get a generator. One major ice storm and we lose power several days. We would be screwed. The little 4 KW unit we still have and it was literally a life saver for the $400 or so it cost way back when. I keep three 6 gallon jugs of gas with Stabil added and run it every now and then. I run it empty and clean the carb bowl. About every 6 months I dump the fuel in my truck and replace it. Kathy's mom eventually passed away and the generator came in handy many times with extension cords supporting neighbors. Be it a summer or winter storm we were prepared.

Things I did wrong with that unit were the small 1.5 gallon fuel tank. Today I would opt for a 7 gallon tank. The 8 HP pull start wasn't bad but Kathy hated it. I would go electric start if I did that again. I had the manual change over but automatic is much nicer.

Since the little unit did more than pay for itself over the years several years ago when we did some major renovation I was going to get another generator with the features I was missing. I started looking at larger portable units then saw the nice whole house, fully automatic, natural gas fueled models and that did it. I was looking at a 12 KW unit but they sold me the larger 18 KW unit floor model as new (hell it never ran) for the same price and I agreed to take it with me (no delivery). Every Saturday it is programmed to exercise for about 30 min. If we lose power, within ten seconds it is running and transfer happens. My UPS units love it. :)

Initially my decision was driven by a need and what I got supported the need. Everyone's needs and wants are different so make a decision based on individual needs. No, we did not need 18 KW but it was there. :) The price was right too. :)

Ron

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Re: Town flood, power outage, backup power ideas?

Post by MrAl » Fri Mar 19, 2010 11:30 am

Hi Ron,


Wow very interesting story, thanks for sharing that. That definitely illustrates clearly how
necessity speaks (or should i say yells loudly) when it comes to things like this.

The more i think about it the less i want to spend on this thing :smile:
Maybe what i will do is just go with the minimum needed during one of these times.
Try to cover the basics and allow other things to go south (for example i can always
replace the things in the fridge and i dont stock a freezer unlike some of the neighbors
who do). If i keep some food around that doesnt spoil that might do it for the food
and drink part.

More thought required i guess.
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Re: Town flood, power outage, backup power ideas?

Post by Lenp » Fri Mar 19, 2010 12:20 pm

Here in rural MD, power outages, summer and winter, are common.
I use a portable generator and a manual transfer switch. Since we use heat pumps they are impractical to run on a small genset.
The transfer switch is easily connected at the service panel to 'critical' circuits like the family room, referigerator, freezer, well pump and kitchen lights. (I do have the outside lights on it just to upset the neighbors) This gives us the necessities except for heat and then we resort to the fireplace and other fuel heaters. Since it's a portable generator it's a little 10 minute chore to set it up but it's also available for other uses if necessary.
Replacement, should it ever be necessary, is a plug-n-run so it's not as big a deal as a fixed generator might be.
I don't care for solar, I'll take fuel based power, either propane or gas.

Another view...
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