Some Math For This Electronic Age

2 several hours long power outages in two days + 1 school cancellation = 0 work done in the last 48 hours. Which is bad when you are behind on things. It’s also messing with my sleep schedule. I was planning to write last night to make up for lost work time during the day when Athena was home, but then the power went out again and I ended up going to sleep at about 8:30 instead. Which a) makes me feel like I’m an old person (very young people also go to sleep early but I don’t get to pass as one of those) and b) means I wake up randomly at odd hours with a fuzzy brain suited only for writing inconsequential blog posts, like this.

Which is, I suspect, my cue to go back to sleep. I hope when I wake up that school will be schedules, and that the power will be on. We’ll have to see.

17 Comments on “Some Math For This Electronic Age”

  1. (I love the new look of your blog!)

    Sounds like where I live, on Bainbridge Island. Winter is really rather reliable for days-long power outages. Why we have above-ground power lines in an area full of old trees dying, I dunno.

    And though it doesn’t snow much, there’s quite a lot of snow days in the Pacific Northwest, because we’re a bunch of wusses and fools who don’t know how to shovel snow.

    G’night. And I love the new colors and the new header image….

  2. Dammit, Scalzi. I woke up fuzzy-brained to try to write; instead, go to check up on your inconsequential blog post, only to find out I’m an old person. Back to bed for me then.

    :::shuffling off:::

  3. You need an emergenct generator. Hell, with this post as evidence, you could probably even claim it as an expense on your taxes.

  4. And wait, there is yet another threat of white death looming for the great state of Ohio! That is if you live north and west of Rt. 71 and southeast of Rt 70 and west north of RT 745 and east west of RT 75, you could get anywhere from 3 to 5 to 10 inches of snow!!!!

    If you live anywhere else in the great state of Ohio, this system could be rain or sleet or freezing rain or, wait, SNOW!

    Yikes, these weather people drive me nuts! Go buy some bread and milk, or in my case beer and pretzels, and hope for the best! (Beer doesn’t spoil if you lose the electric!)

  5. What you need is a spare generator, maybe powered by bio-ethanol (and a still to provide the fuel!)… or one of those Toshiba mini-nukes. :)

  6. Yes, I’m a broken record broken record.

    Voltage inverter – cheaper than a generator, runs longer when connected to your car because of the bigger gas tank.

    I really dislike feeling like Cassandra. Don’t wait for the outages to become even more frequent to buy the inverter. If you wait until everyone realizes they need one the price will be up and the availability will be down.

    In the Fall if starting your car sounds like raaawr raaaw raaa do you wait to but the new battery until it is 20 below and Sears is out of them?

    I didn’t think so.

  7. So when Athena turns into a teenager (and you suddenly become way too lame to hang out with) we’ll expect your output to double.

  8. Tripp — yeah, and my 12kW automatic backup generator will outlast your car because it’s got a 500 gallon LP tank. Also, because it’s stationary, I don’t have to choose between power/heat/lights/AC and transportation. (grin) Though I’ll concede you probably have a huge edge on cost, I do like the lights back on in six seconds approach.

    Dr. Phil

  9. Dr. Phil,

    Good on ya. Sincerely. Being in town I do not have a propane tank. Well, I have the little tank for the grill but you know what I mean. Given your situation I would have done the same thing.

    Oh, and my power lines are all underground – so la di dah. (grin)

  10. Given where you live, you could step right off the grid with a windmill and some solar panels. And satellite internet connections are available and getting cheaper.
    I kinda like it when the power goes out. The silence is refreshing.

  11. Tripp-

    Don’t be too assured just because you’re in a neighborhood with buried lines. There’s more to the grid than the last mile or two, unless the wires run underground all the way to the generating station. It’s less common, but recall the ice storm of perhaps 10 years ago, in which most of Quebec, and many northern areas of the USA – was without power for many weeks. There were widely distributed photos of transmission line towers in piles on the ground from ice load. It pays to have some non-electric items on hand.

    Or, Chris has the right idea with a good homemade power system. The rub is that grid-tied systems are less expensive today, easier to get state-supported funding, and actually better for the environment because the grid acts as essentially a perfect storage device.

  12. As an employee of the power company that feeds Mr. Scalzi’s house (I think)…uh…our apologies…twasn’t snow that did the power in…twas ice!

    On an occasion or two you’ve wondered what “toy” to spend money on. Backup generator sounds like a good investment!

  13. Robrobb,

    Kidding aside I take my preparations very seriously. Bad times are coming – no mistake. I’ve been to my local power plant. It is about five miles away and the lines that feed my neighborhood are indeed all underground. The plant is an amazing place and as an engineer I appreciate the POWER it creates and also the Westinghouse generators that are over sixty years old and are lovingly maintained and are still going strong. The scale of the thing is absolutely awesome.

    It is coal fired (yeah I know) but at least they burn the cleaner Indiana coal and have scrubbers. I know enough to know that until we can create good massive electrical storage devices wind power (which I am a BIG fan of – get it – fan!) and solar will not provide the rock steady generating that our power grid relies on. The new silicon metal hydride batteries Toshiba invented hold promise but they are currently very new and small.

    The Plant Engineer says they have a plan to disconnect from the grid so they won’t get pulled down in a cascading failure like what happened out East but they haven’t tested it yet so he can’t guarantee that it will work. My work site installed a massive diesel backup generator just last year pretty much outside my window.

    People really do need wake up. Businesses are. Power plants are. Granted there is a lot of BS floating around with hare-brained schemes and such but the internet, while full of crap, is also full of excellent information for someone with a brain who is willing to do the work and sort the wheat from the chaff.

  14. Tripp isn’t necessarily being paranoid. There’s a lot of old infrastructure going around and we’ve seen more ice here and in surrounding states the last couple of years than 15 years ago. Mrs. Dr. Phil was just remarking how around 1994 she was driving once a month, winters included, to Lansing for a meeting. And we didn’t own any 4WD vehicles yet. This winter, treacherous. Last winter, we had to turn back on one of those Lansing meeting trips because the roads were too slithery.

    Anyway, ice is a problem for power lines. And in the summer it’s heat and overloads. And since we’re in the country, our 220V well pump doesn’t work without power for starters.

    One issue with backup generators — the better ones have better electronics for monitoring voltage and frequency and are “nicer” on consumer electronics. Just sayin’.

    Dr. Phil

  15. Tripp / Dr Phil-

    You’re both right, of course. Bear with me if I get preachy here.

    The grid is aging in many ways, and some of those aged parts are solid. Some others are newer than you may think from routine overhauls. And in general, the grid does get by peak days pretty much on past lessons, good careful coordination and luck.

    I’ve come around to the idea that we’ve (as a society) been making gradual decisions which are more wasteful of energy and less self-reliant, and that in time we’re going to need to make those same decisions in reverse. Home backup generators are nice, even needed in some cases, but in the larger picture only a temporary solution (and I sell these as part of my business). As a society we’ve been wanting to live in the country but have services lke the city. This means making more trips in cars to town to buy things, go to work, bring out contractors and specialists, and so on. As these things get more convenient it makes less sense to, in business terms, hold inventory and diversify. We build all-electric homes at the end of a radial line and then assure ourselves that we can run into town for batteries and food if something goes afoul. If you can’t live in your house without power, you need to have a plan. Some people use generators, or have non-electric heat sources like wood stoves or a self-igniting propane heater. Homemade power like solar, wind or hydro works well to cover these times, and technologies like solar are easily integrated into urban homes where others may not. Some systems grid tie and have battery backups.

    As for the grid, the industry has been talking about “Distributed Generation” for a long time. This means that some of the power is generated closer to the user than in a system with a large central generating station. Benefits include less need to transmission lines, lower line losses and locally higher reliability. Plus, usually, lower greenhouse gas emissions. Cogeneration systems do this by using waste heat for some useful purpose like steam generation or chilling, and get much higher efficiencies too. Most renewable systems are small like this and often located near loads. Home grid-tied solar systems are considered part of this trend, as are some emergency power systems set up to drop load off the grid in times of tight supplies. It took us 100 years to get to the point that we’re so dependent on imported power, so this trend may take decades to really make an impact, but you can see it coming. Each year someone tries to make a go with another home-sized cogeneration system to run on natural gas. Pretty soon one will hit the market that works well and then that market will begin to take hold too.