Why NOT to invest in back-up power

CariboocootCariboocoot Banned Posts: 17,615 ✭✭
Lessons from a life.

I was sitting here slowly typing out a response to someone when everything went dark except the netbook screen. Walk around outside and see the whole neighbourhood is down.

Now consider that I've got generators, UPS units, inverters, and a whole lot of know-how. But I'm sitting in the dark, save one candle, enjoying the quiet. :D

Mrs. demands I unearth the wired phone because she can't go ten minutes without talking to someone. One of those she talked too was BC Hydro, or rather listened to their pre-recorded message:

"The power outage in your area is due to a motor vehicle accident. The earliest we expect power to be restored is midnight Thursday."

Oh come on! Unless a dump truck went into a sub-station it just does not take that long to fix some wires! But Mrs. panic and started going on about generator and called the neighbours and passed on the dire news and stupidly mentioned we have a generator (I really wish she'd stop volunteering me and my stuff to everyone) which as you know is a bad idea in a power outage.

Well it dragged on about two hours and I figured I'd better get the Honda fired up and cycle the 'frige down before going to bed. Almost had the cord run when the lights came back on. So much for midnight Thursday. Maybe they didn't know what day it is today.

This is the second 2 hour power outage we've suffered in 3 years. This is why I haven't got $20k invested in battery back-up for this place. :p

Although if I feel up to it sometime I might get on with fixing up that clunker 5kW B&S which I can power the whole house with. Needs a lot of work though, including wheels so I can move it about (too old to honk it around). Burns a lot a gas too. Meh; maybe I won't. ;)
«1345

Comments

  • inetdoginetdog Solar Expert Posts: 3,123 ✭✭✭✭
    Re: Why NOT to invest in back-up power
    The earliest we expect power to be restored is midnight Thursday."...
    Well it dragged on about two hours and I figured I'd better get the Honda fired up and cycle the 'frige down before going to bed. Almost had the cord run when the lights came back on. So much for midnight Thursday. Maybe they didn't know what day it is today.

    Maybe they are on UTC time? Or maybe they were thinking of one minute after midnight on Thursday, which has already gone by. :-)

    It is somewhat disturbing that one minute after midnight on Thursday is 23 hours 59 minutes before midnight on Thursday, but such is our Engilsh language (both US and Canadian.)
    SMA SB 3000, old BP panels.
  • waynefromnscanadawaynefromnscanada Solar Expert Posts: 3,009 ✭✭✭✭
    Re: Why NOT to invest in back-up power

    Coot, your post really made me open my eyes and appreciate my off grid system. It's been working so wonderfully, far more reliable than Nova Scotia Power, that I tend to take it for granted. I so wish you were able to develop such a system for yourself, but sometimes we just have to take what life gives us.
    Wishing you a better day tomorrow.
    Wayne & Bella
  • Organic FarmerOrganic Farmer Solar Expert Posts: 128 ✭✭
    Re: Why NOT to invest in back-up power
    ... This is the second 2 hour power outage we've suffered in 3 years. This is why I haven't got $20k invested in battery back-up for this place. :p

    That is very infrequent. We lose power much more regularly.
  • solar_davesolar_dave Solar Expert Posts: 2,382 ✭✭✭✭
    Re: Why NOT to invest in back-up power
    That is very infrequent. We lose power much more regularly.

    Yeah an unreliable grid is tough to deal with, I can't remember the last time we had an outage. I would have to get the instruction books out to reset all the digital clocks.
  • Organic FarmerOrganic Farmer Solar Expert Posts: 128 ✭✭
    Re: Why NOT to invest in back-up power

    For where we live, I could justify a battery-charger / battery-bank / inverter setup. So if we lose power 3 or 4 times each month, you have enough charge to keep things going long enough until the grid comes back up again.

    But really we are aiming at photovoltaic-panels AND grid input to charge our battery-bank.
  • Blackcherry04Blackcherry04 Solar Expert Posts: 2,490 ✭✭✭
    Re: Why NOT to invest in back-up power

    It's so hard to know what one can justify for emergency power. For 30 years it was a 5000 w B&G noise making gas hog ( $300 ) that I kept boxed and dry stored. The only problem is I'v lost power 2 times in 30 years that was significant enough to drag it out and fuel it. It takes 2 hours to ready it for storage again , so I didn't react to the short outages. The problem is from what you experienced in the past, you never know how long the power will be out. Do I wait 2 hours ??, then it comes back on in 30 minutes.

    Well, this year I invested in a 3000 w Inverter and 4 batteries and a Honda EU2000. Total cost around $3000.00, All in all I hope I never have to use it. My 8.2 KW of GT solar is not in my emergency plan as I feel it will be compromised in the emergency's I foresee. If Doomsday comes and I can still climb on the roof I can cut some panels loose.

    The other issue is this in my city home and I only stay here 4 months or so a year, my off-grid place, I'm good to go.
    .
  • NorthGuyNorthGuy Solar Expert Posts: 1,913 ✭✭
    Re: Why NOT to invest in back-up power

    With off-grid, you would know right away what happened and how long it would take to fix it.
  • CariboocootCariboocoot Banned Posts: 17,615 ✭✭
    Re: Why NOT to invest in back-up power
    NorthGuy wrote: »
    With off-grid, you would know right away what happened and how long it would take to fix it.

    Yes. It would take longer and be more expensive. I have both types of power sources.
  • RandomJoeRandomJoe Solar Expert Posts: 472 ✭✭✭
    Re: Why NOT to invest in back-up power

    I enjoy my whole-house UPS / semi-off-grid system! 8) Yeah, not cost effective, but that's not why I put it in.

    While we rarely have really long outages, we do seem to have a LOT of "blips". The most frustrating part of those for me is I have a lot of computers running and don't like them doing hard reboots. I could (and used to) run UPSes on each of them, but the AGMs in those things seem to die with alarming regularity. Of course - thanks to my "out of sight out of mind" brain - I usually found that out at the next power bump...!

    Now, with the Outback inverter connected to most circuits in my house, I usually don't even realize the power bumps occurred. I notice some time later when I see the microwave clock (not on the inverter) has reset, might know right away if I happen to be in my office and hear the laser printer (also not on the inverter) reboot.

    I have even completely missed some longer (15-30 minute) outages, since the lights and outlets I use regularly *are* backed up. Hear someone comment on the outage, go look at my data logs, and - oh yeah, sure enough... :roll:

    I do have an EU2000i, but it lives a precarious existence. I probably should dry-store it, but right now try to remember (very poorly) to run it every month (or two... three?!?) with a load. Come to think of it, I should do so now...! :blush:

    That's the best advantage the solar system / battery bank has for me. I use it daily, and have a web page I can monitor with from anywhere, so I stay aware of how it's doing. Generators and little UPS batteries and even spare alkalines for flashlights (as with everything I'm not actively using at the moment) just slip my mind and I often don't even think about them until I *need* them, which is of course too late if there's a problem.
  • ChrisOlsonChrisOlson Banned Posts: 1,807 ✭✭
    Re: Why NOT to invest in back-up power
    NorthGuy wrote: »
    With off-grid, you would know right away what happened and how long it would take to fix it.

    9 times out of 10, when an off-grid power system goes down it's because the inverter went belly up. The next few days are going to be really expensive until you get that inverter fixed or replaced. People who have lived off-grid for any amount of time generally have backup, and backup to backup, because Murphy is a Bad Dude and if you don't have enough tricks up your sleeve he'll win.

    It's been not uncommon to have 2-3 day power outages here, and a few times 2-3 weeks. It is rather irritating when my wife calls up our daughter and son-in-law and says, "Oh yah - come on over - we have all kinds of power!" The next thing you know we got two more adults and three grandkids living with us and their main mission seems to be to turn everything on just to make sure it really works.
    --
    Chris
  • KnowledgeSpongeKnowledgeSponge Solar Expert Posts: 173 ✭✭✭
    Re: Why NOT to invest in back-up power

    Longest outage here was almost a whole month. At that time all I had was a 5000watt ear splitter.
    But, we had hot water and lights and a few other amenities noone else around had.
    I connected the genny to ONE of the heating elements and in 30 minutes, VIOLA! steaming hot showers.

    Since then, we've had one 18 hour outage and numerous 3 - 6 hour outages.
    But the power company guy who was in the neighborhood fixing the last outage said get prepared for this to become more frequent because
    a LOT of the grid infrastructure was reaching the end of it's useful life and money to replace stuff just isn't there.

    So, that's why I'm investing in solar. I need about 1200watts total so that's where my "finish" line is.
  • ChrisOlsonChrisOlson Banned Posts: 1,807 ✭✭
    Re: Why NOT to invest in back-up power
    a LOT of the grid infrastructure was reaching the end of it's useful life and money to replace stuff just isn't there.

    Yep. The grid infrastructure around here was shot 15 years ago. Today it's rotten poles leaning at 45 degrees here and there, being held up by the wires. The wires and transformers at the substation aren't big enough anymore so they kick out. On the State Highway where the three-phase line runs it is hung on old T-hangers on the poles and when the wind blows sometimes a hot slaps the neutral and blows people's stuff right off the wall. And they don't have any replacement transformers when one blows - takes 2 weeks to get one out of Milwaukee.

    She's pretty much House of Cards here, as far as the grid is concerned. And there's no money to fix it.
    --
    Chris
  • Ralph DayRalph Day Solar Expert Posts: 953 ✭✭✭✭
    Re: Why NOT to invest in back-up power

    In the early years of my off-grid experience I had a bad relay in my SW4048. TWitchy on the charging, then nothing, no inverting either. My installer had a replacement loaner, but for a day or so I would run the genny for an hour, off for 4 hours for the refrig loads. I had a 12v 1Kwatt msw inverter which powered a lamp that followed me/us around the house on extension cords until the replacement brute could be wired in. It was like living at a cottage. I always wondered how many more SW's had those faulty relays and how long they lasted for others.

    Ralph
  • 2manytoyz2manytoyz Solar Expert Posts: 373 ✭✭✭
    Re: Why NOT to invest in back-up power

    Unfortunately in Florida, power outages are all too common. Lightning, high winds, rain -w- auto accidents, tropical storms, hurricanes, blah blah.

    In 2004, we had two back to back hurricanes hit the area. Local power was out for 18 days. Gas stations couldn't pump fuel without power. Grocery stores lost all their cold/frozen foods overnight. All the canned/boxed food sold out quickly. Things got interesting quickly.

    My first step was getting a generator. Then a small battery bank and a grid powered charger. Eventually added solar panels, and the generator took the backup role. The battery bank grew as the solar array did.

    Hurricane season starts in 3 weeks...
  • nielniel Solar Expert Posts: 10,300 ✭✭✭✭
    Re: Why NOT to invest in back-up power

    you know this thread has me thinking, especially what coot said about his wife making promises over the phone. now i have enough to back me up for upwards of a half of a day with batteries and inverter, but i did not put her base phone for the wireless remote phone she loves to use on the back up system i have as the transmitter in the base needs power to use the remote with. she could still use the handset on the base as it does not need electric to have calls out or in, but her laziness prevails. seeing the promises that were made by coot's wife got me thinking that my wife would do the same thing and make promises to all nearby that they would be able to bring their food here to keep cold for the duration. long term even i would drag out my gashog of a genny and i can't see me with a refrigerator packed to the gills with other people's stuff forcing me to be responsible for their foods. worse yet is they would elect to stay here because i would have lights and my wife would have no qualms of inviting everybody here because of that. she does not realize that i can't provide power for everybody like i am a utility company or something and all who would come would consume power that i would want to conserve. all i can think right now is thank God she is too lazy to use the base unit.:-)
  • solar_davesolar_dave Solar Expert Posts: 2,382 ✭✭✭✭
    Re: Why NOT to invest in back-up power

    I have to admit having a generator "on the shelf' seems like a good idea, oh wait I have two of the best generators around the Volts, man I gotta get a couple of 1000 or 1200 watt PSW that that I can wire up to the Volt's 12 V battery.

    This guy even has done all the leg work for me! http://www.evextend.com/Emergency-Power-Kit.php
  • vcallawayvcallaway Solar Expert Posts: 157 ✭✭✭✭✭
    Re: Why NOT to invest in back-up power

    I spent less than a grand setting up my first battery backup. Couple of 8d batteries, 20a charger, modest inverter, transfer switch, breaker panel and wires. Not hard or expensive if you plan ahead.
  • techntrektechntrek Solar Expert Posts: 1,372 ✭✭✭
    Re: Why NOT to invest in back-up power

    Lots of blips, and multiple outages a year here. When we first moved in we lost power every month for 6 months until I had enough and installed a 12 kw genset. Things progressed from there - massive battery bank, Prius-as-gas-sipping-genset, and I recently added a Yamaha EF2400is. The later is mostly portable power for my camper but also as backup-on-backup-on-backup.
    4.5 kw APC UPS powered by a Prius, 12 kw Generac, Honda EU3000is
  • ShadowcatcherShadowcatcher Solar Expert Posts: 228 ✭✭✭
    Re: Why NOT to invest in back-up power

    We used to have power outages until I bought a 5000 W generator, and Toledo Edison started trimming trees. I also have Kipor commercial 2400W generator for the teardrop.
  • ChrisOlsonChrisOlson Banned Posts: 1,807 ✭✭
    Re: Why NOT to invest in back-up power

    It's obvious that there's many places that utility power simply isn't reliable. In the rural areas where an outdated trunk line serves maybe a half dozen customers, in the event of an outage that line will be the last thing to get looked at or fixed. Which many times involves days or even weeks, depending on what caused it.

    The entire grid infrastructure in much of the US is outdated, and without elaborate computer controlled routing is mostly overloaded. The cascade failure in the Southwest US in 2011 illustrates quite well that the whole system is a house of cards. Hurricane Sandy also demonstrated the fallacy of using natural gas for fueling standby generators in a true emergency outage when the power is needed most.

    For most people a standby generator is the best and cheapest option to protect yourself in an outage. RE systems are too expensive for utility backup.
    --
    Chris
  • Organic FarmerOrganic Farmer Solar Expert Posts: 128 ✭✭
    Re: Why NOT to invest in back-up power
    ChrisOlson wrote: »
    It's obvious that there's many places that utility power simply isn't reliable. In the rural areas where an outdated trunk line serves maybe a half dozen customers, in the event of an outage that line will be the last thing to get looked at or fixed. Which many times involves days or even weeks, depending on what caused it.

    I live in a state they say is 93% forest. Our primary source of outage is blowdowns. [trees are blown down by the wind]

    In my township there is one power line that goes the length of our township, and then goes on through the next township. Most towns here are supplied power by a trunk line that is in series, running through a dozen townships [or more].

    If a tree on my land blows down and pulls down the power line, a dozen [or more] towns lose power.

    In the cities, I see power lines going down every street. A block over is another power line, etc. So I am thinking that in a city like that with rows of North-South and East-West running power lines they form a grid-work with multiple paths power can follow.

    As compared to these small towns where there is only one path for power to follow. That one path went through six townships before it got to your township, and the power line will continue through a dozen more townships beyond yours.

    :)
  • techntrektechntrek Solar Expert Posts: 1,372 ✭✭✭
    Re: Why NOT to invest in back-up power
    ChrisOlson wrote: »
    It's obvious that there's many places that utility power simply isn't reliable. In the rural areas where an outdated trunk line serves maybe a half dozen customers, in the event of an outage that line will be the last thing to get looked at or fixed. Which many times involves days or even weeks, depending on what caused it.

    ...Hurricane Sandy also demonstrated the fallacy of using natural gas for fueling standby generators in a true emergency outage when the power is needed most....

    That's my problem - 30+ miles of tower-based HV lines before it converts to 20 miles of HV lines on poles, all along very busy roads, then down a mile of wooded country road. Those poles get hit by cars constantly, and trees come down on the lines too.

    I've had long arguments on other forums (here, too I think) about the extreme fragility of the NG system if you are relying on it for emergency backup. So many pumps, miles of pipe, joints, then there is the fragile electric system feeding those pumps.... One event is a perfect example - the San Francisco earthquake of 1989. All those fires were broken NG pipes.
    4.5 kw APC UPS powered by a Prius, 12 kw Generac, Honda EU3000is
  • NorthGuyNorthGuy Solar Expert Posts: 1,913 ✭✭
    Re: Why NOT to invest in back-up power
    techntrek wrote: »
    I've had long arguments on other forums (here, too I think) about the extreme fragility of the NG system if you are relying on it for emergency backup. So many pumps, miles of pipe, joints, then there is the fragile electric system feeding those pumps.... One event is a perfect example - the San Francisco earthquake of 1989. All those fires were broken NG pipes.

    I my whole life I remember only one natural gas outage. That compared to hundreds (if not thousands) of electric outages.
  • ChrisOlsonChrisOlson Banned Posts: 1,807 ✭✭
    Re: Why NOT to invest in back-up power

    Pumping station compressors for interstate pipelines are natural gas-fueled internal combustion engines - many of them built by Caterpillar. But all urban station compressors fed by the interstate lines are electric and 99% of them have no backup power source. So if the electric grid goes down for any length of time you will lose natural gas service too. The rolling blackout cascade failure of the electric grid in the Southwest US in 2011 also knocked out natural gas service to 4.4 million customers. Electrical power was restored in most areas in three days. It too two weeks to restore gas service. Service personnel have to close all the meters, purge the system with air, re-pressurize with natural gas, and then visit every location to ensure safety and meet all the Federal guidelines for restoring gas service.

    Not to mention that natural gas is not even safe. Natural Gas Watch dot org keeps track of all the natural gas explosions in the US and they are VERY common. Natural gas has the worst safety record of all energy sources, including nuclear:
    http://www.naturalgaswatch.org/
    --
    Chris
  • CariboocootCariboocoot Banned Posts: 17,615 ✭✭
    Re: Why NOT to invest in back-up power

    Power was off again here yesterday! Almost ten minutes! That's three "major" outages in as many years! We pay through the nose for electric too: ten cents per kw Hour! It's an outrage!

    That does it: I'm investing a quadrillion dollars in solar electric power to prevent these interruptions. So what if it wouldn't even work half of the year due to lack of sun!

    :p:D
  • jeffkrusejeffkruse Solar Expert Posts: 205 ✭✭✭
    Re: Why NOT to invest in back-up power
    Power was off again here yesterday! Almost ten minutes! That's three "major" outages in as many years! We pay through the nose for electric too: ten cents per kw Hour! It's an outrage!

    That does it: I'm investing a quadrillion dollars in solar electric power to prevent these interruptions. So what if it wouldn't even work half of the year due to lack of sun!

    :p:D

    :) My power is averaging two 8 hour outages a week and if we talk about the water, it's only on two days a week. When the power is on I pay 30 cents a KWH. I wish I had a solar system in this house but I don't because we don't plan on staying more than another year, that is why I do not invest in back-up-solar power. We do have a Honda EU2000i though.
  • BB.BB. Super Moderators, Administrators Posts: 32,027 admin
    Re: Why NOT to invest in back-up power

    We pay $0.30-0.50 per kWH (summer afternoons and tiered rates--as low as $0.10 per kWH off peak, less than 300 kWH per month)... So far, our power has been pretty reliable in San Francisco area. But it is not from lack of trying on our state public utility commission and our utilities part (PG&E was the big gas main explosion just south of San Francisco).

    So far, I have been pretty good at not wasting our power, so a 3.5 kW GT connected array has generated way more power than we use (both on kWH and "billing/net metering rate plan") so our electric is $5 per month minimum charge.

    Still have a couple generators from over the years--And have yet to find it worth while to fire one up (keep 20 gallons of fresh gas+stabilizer on hand)--just don't trust "them" anymore (spent $25,000,000,000 for a summer's worth of overpriced "Enron" power and will be paying 40 year bonds for that privilege).

    -Bill
    Near San Francisco California: 3.5kWatt Grid Tied Solar power system+small backup genset
  • ChrisOlsonChrisOlson Banned Posts: 1,807 ✭✭
    Re: Why NOT to invest in back-up power
    BB. wrote: »
    We pay $0.30-0.50 per kWH (summer afternoons and tiered rates--as low as $0.10 per kWH off peak, less than 300 kWH per month)... So far, our power has been pretty reliable in San Francisco area.

    I think in more populated areas like that, the utility power is more reliable because they stick more money into maintaining the system. It's generally in the rural areas where there's problems, in my experience.

    Around here if the lightning hits the top neutral wire on the highline and blows a transformer, they don't even have a replacement. And it can take 6 weeks to get one, depending on what size it is. In the more populated areas they got more ways to route power from place to place, and probably got some spare parts on hand if something like that would happen.

    We had a really heavy wet snow (20") about 10 days ago that broke trees off and they tipped over on the highlines. The same storm deposited 17" south of the Twin Cities and they had power out there too. But their power was restored the next day. Most areas here were without power for three days, and some of the dead end trunk lines that feed cabins and homes in the Wisconsin North Woods still aren't fixed.

    When something like that happens on the east coast or west coast it makes National News and is declared a Disaster Area. Where we live it's normal and it barely makes local news.
    --
    Chris
  • westbranchwestbranch Solar Expert Posts: 5,183 ✭✭✭✭
    Re: Why NOT to invest in back-up power

    Correct, when I first started my 32 +yr career with the Forest Service we went to a remote village that had just been added to the grid about 2 years before we arrived. In our time there we regularly 'received ' power outages monthly, on average. But to tell the truth they were more prevalent in the Oct to April (winter weather) months. Try to picture a tree, and the power outage at the top of the tree. That was us... We were 2 + hours one way travel from the nearest 'service yard' so it generally took til the next day for the crews to 'head West', literally...
    BTW the power still comes from Hydro generators about 600 miles away at Williston Dam.

    The worst outage was just 3 days before NY Eve, the ladies had planned an inaugural ball to celebrate the 'NEW ' addition to the community hall...
    WHAM out goes the power and it is 40 below and holding, damn that's cold. 'Never mind, we still want a party' they (SWMBO) said... It came back on at about 6 pm NY Eve, just as people were arriving. Best party yet!
    I guess when you are at the end of the line you pays your dime and takes your chances.

    As always, you learn to roll with the punches and manage your way through the inconvenience, like living off grid... and being your own 'Hydro company'.
     
    KID #51B  4s 140W to 24V 900Ah C&D AGM
    CL#29032 FW 2126/ 2073/ 2133 175A E-Panel WBjr, 3 x 4s 140W to 24V 900Ah C&D AGM 
    Cotek ST1500W 24V Inverter,OmniCharge 3024,
    2 x Cisco WRT54GL i/c DD-WRT Rtr & Bridge,
    Eu3/2/1000i Gens, 1680W & E-Panel/WBjr to come, CL #647 asleep
    West Chilcotin, BC, Canada
  • icarusicarus Solar Expert Posts: 5,433 ✭✭✭✭
    Re: Why NOT to invest in back-up power

    Chris,

    I don't wish this to devolve into a proverbial shouting contest over the merit of natural gas, but I must comment on you note about he safety of Nat gas. As a preface, I am not a gas mouth piece or a fracking advocate etc, but I recognize the merits of Nat gas in today's energy world. I think your note that " natural gas is not even safe" is misleading at best. One has to consider all aspects of use to make such a blanket statement. Yes, there are leaks every day, and accidental fires and explosions, (and deaths and injuries) but the same can be said for electricity (and oil, and propane, and wood fired boilers and wood stoves, in other words, energy use is dangerous!) A more relevant comparison is the (serious) accident rate (seriousness defined equally across sources) of Nat gas vs electricity per user, or per BTU net or some method of comparison.

    People are electrocuted everyday, electrical fires happen every day. My point is everything ought to be done to make the infrastructure safe and robust for all energy systems. To blame Nat gas (as being dangerous) simply because the infrastructure is bad is false equivilancy. For example, one critique of Nat gas is the danger of fire in earth quake. Siesmic valves are redioy available for distribution systems including individual meter unites so that in the even the meter moves, the gas is shut off. Installing such valves is possible in all aspects of the system, but to blame the fuel for the lack of foresight of the utility and the regulators is wrong.

    Finally the is the CO2 issue of using Natural gas as a substitute for coal as a fuel especially for electrical generation. While most of us here would Ike to see wind and PV take over a greater share of production, the net environmental benefit of burning Nat gas in lieu of coal is huge. How many lives are prolonged or saved because of this change?

    As with everything, most issues have complicated answers. I know that you have had some bad personal experince with gas (propane if I recall) So I understand your visceral reaction to gas, but a more rational look is required to be accurate.

    Like I said, I don't wish this to devolved, and if it does, perhaps we should move it to its own thread.

    Tony

    PS I understand you have a bunch of wild fires in your area these days. I hope you are as and well. We are still waiting for our ice to go out, but the bush is quite dry.
Sign In or Register to comment.