In the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina in New Orleans in 2005, it took 23 days for power to be restored to 95 percent of the affected areas. It took only 13 days during the recovery from Superstorm Sandy. In the time preceding, during and after those disasters, over 1,400 people in the Southeast lost their lives due to Katrina, and over 200 in eight countries, including the United States and Canada, from Sandy. While not all of those deaths were the direct result of the loss of power, it can arguably be stated that some, if not many, were.
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With the push for green energy initiatives and the cost of alternative energy decreasing every year, it is within the reach for the average person to be able to afford to implement alternative energy measures into their daily life. Until these initiatives can become a wide-scale solution for the majority of people, there are considerations that should be seriously looked at for emergency purposes.
There are many scenarios that might require the need for emergency power, such as the aforementioned natural disasters to the grid attacks that occurred in Arkansas in 2014. While the latter event was small in scale and the blackout did not last for very long, some sources attribute that action as being the cause to the disruption of the EBT database that, in turn, resulted in widespread over-purchasing of consumable goods. That created a temporary supply shortage and panic in the affected areas.
In order to avoid being adversely affected during a blackout scenario, you must have a plan. That plan should include multiple contingencies for how each phase, level, condition, etc., will be implemented. Depending on the entity or agency, these types of plans are called a “continuity of operations plan” (COOP) or a “continuity of government” (COG), but they can also be adapted to families and/or survival groups. Information on how to organize and conduct training for this kind of contingency planning can found online at training.fema.gov.
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The key to remember when creating contingencies for various types of events that might adversely affect your day-to-day operations is to take a layered approach. Whether it is sheltering in place or moving to an alternate location, there should be multiple options listed in a concise manner that everyone involved can readily adapt to with little to no difficulty. Your plan should not only be accessible electronically on a smartphone, tablet or computer, but also in print as a backup. Other elements included in the plan besides shelter should be sustainment (a steady supply of food and water) and communication. To a degree, each of those aspects are going to need some sort of energy to maintain or utilize.
Much of the devices we use power for involve convenience and comfort that we can live without. Things like lights, television and air conditioning can be easily substituted or completely removed with regard to the use of energy. With that understanding, one can prioritize what appliances, tools or equipment need power and how much energy it will take to operate. For example, if one has medication that needs to be maintained at a constant cool temperature and the majority of your stored food is kept in the freezer, the refrigerator/freezer will take priority in mapping out your energy consumption plan.
Regarding the methodology of creating energy during a power outage, a fuel-operated generator is a popular option that offers an easy plug-and-play solution. The problem is fuel storage. Whether the generator runs on unleaded or diesel fuel, natural gas or propane, there is no sure way to know how long the outage will last and how much fuel it will take to outlast the event. Batteries are the next most popular and efficient selection for providing energy on a limited basis to power appliances or equipment. The limitations of batteries is that it usually takes a lot of them, and they must be charged on a regular basis to maintain their ability to provide the requisite energy.
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There are a few solutions to each of these problems regarding storage and longevity. An online search for a wood gasifier will yield a plethora of do-it-yourself videos and plans on how to build one. This unit burns wood chips, nut shells and other biomass materials in such a way that separates the gas that can be directly fed into a generator to produce usable energy like traditional fuels do, except biomasses (trees, leaves, paper, nuts, etc.) are virtually unlimited and readily available.
If “do it yourself” isn’t your thing, commercially available models exist such as the GEK gasifier from All Power Labs. Priced at around $16,000, it is a robust, automated system that can be attached to the motor of your choice to produce direct power whenever you need it and comes completely assembled. The next level up is the company’s Power Pallet, at approximately $24,000, that is equipped with a motor and can produce up to 18 kilowatts of electricity, enough to power multiple homes in an area.
If that is out of your budget, Langston’s Alternative Power manufactures a smaller version that can power up to a 30-horsepower generator that can power the necessary appliances, charge a battery bank or both. Other Langston’s devices utilize naturally running water for power generation in a couple of different configurations. Hydro generators can come in low-flow and high-flow units depending on the water source if one exists in your immediate area. These units are diverse and can produce up to 120 volts of AC power and various levels of DC power with the proper wiring and component configurations. Prices for these types of energy producers range from $900 to $1,700.
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Some more traditional methods of alternative energy production come from the sun and wind. Missouri Wind and Solar offers several wind generator models and solar panels that can provide direct energy to appliances or a battery bank for continuous operations of necessary items. A key point to consider when selecting a wind generator is the frequency and speed of wind in your area, as that will dictate the number of blades that are best for your array. Prices for these units range from $48 to $160 but does not include the necessary alternator, inverter or charge controller in order to produce and capture the right amount of energy you’re seeking.
The same applies to solar panels that harness the sun’s energy and convert it to useable power. Solar panels can typically range in price from $130 to $500 for basic units. The benefit of these methods is that they can be configured to be portable should sheltering in place become untenable. The important thing to consider when constructing a family emergency plan or business continuity procedure is to document the process in detail and practice it regularly so that if it becomes necessary to implement, you will know that all of the components function as designed.
For More Information
All Power Labs
Langston’s Alternative Power
Missouri Wind and Solar
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This article was originally published in the SURVIVOR’S EDGE™ Winter 2016 edition. Subscription is available in print and digital editions here.