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Power basics

Power, be it electricity, gas, solar, wind or any other form of energy is the single item that, if lost, would take us all back to the stone age. Cooking on fires and reliant on the weather, fires and coats to keep us warm.

It is also the basis of our society. Cheap and easy accessible energy is what enables us to travel in comfort, make and use heavy equipment and saves us from doing heavy labour. It is what has changed us from being farm workers to a space age society.

What happens when it stops becoming cheap or readily available? The UK government has grabbed the Green agenda with both hands because of the ability to apply taxes which the general population will accept because it is for the planet and the power to regulate and control our power usage. Besides the obvious green tax increases this means no new nuclear power stations but plenty of wind turbines which will not generate the power that we need as a society now, never mind any growth. There are power issues looming and you need to start to be prepared now.

This section is about finding ways to generate your own power, reduce your reliance on mains power and save yourself some money whilst still being able to live comfortably.

Power production will cost money and it will take some work but when the rest of the world is huddled around candles and eating cold food in the dark because of power shortages you will be able to use your computer, cook your food and light your home and in the event of a total breakdown you will be able to live and whilst not having a dishwasher you will at least have hot water and hot food with light.

In saying that get some torches with rechargeable batteries now for emergencies. You can also get wind up torches. You need them in even if the issue is just your fuses have blown or you have an electrical problem with the light. Get a couple and put them where you can access them easily. One in the electricity cupboard, one by your bed, one in the hall and while you are at it put one in the car as well.

10 comments to Power basics

  • Skvez

    You seem to have a strong bias against wind power but don’t explain any rationale for it.
    The UK Government has managed to see the perils of being dependent on imported oil and gas, the North Sea produces only a small fraction of the oil the UK needs. The coalmines in the UK were uneconomical back in Thatcher’s day and would be even more so to try and re-start now. Nuclear fission is still dependent on imported fuel and continues to be horrendously expensive when the storage of radioactive waste is considered (a cost that is not included in the kWh costs when comparing various energy sources!).
    The logical alternative is renewables.
    We are too far North and experience too many cloudy days for solar to be a serious consideration. Wave and Tidal are still infant technologies, they offer promise for the future (and I’d personally like to see the Government investing more in them) but right now Wind is the logical choice.
    Sure there are days when the wind doesn’t blow but most days it blows pretty consistently. The technology has improved greatly and the UK has vast opportunity to make use of it, if we just hadn’t de-regulated the power industry to the point where no-one wants to pay for the infrastructure to bring the power from the best places to generate it to the customer.
    When you disparage something it would be good if you stated why and what your alternative is.
    Wind is not perfect, it has its problems but it’s presently the best interim solution to the UK’s issues with importing power at least to *reduce* the dependence on imported fuel if not to become totally energy independent.
    Much of the UK’s energy comes from gas turbines powered from imported gas. Gas turbines spin up quickly (compared to oil or coal or nuclear) to fill in when the wind is light. What the UK really needs is more local gas storage to compliment the wind turbines.
    Long term it would be great for the UK to be totally energy independent. However I don’t see that happening until tidal power is mature (the UK is in the enviable position that at any time there is a strong tidal flow somewhere around the UK coast!) or we finally get nuclear fusion working commercially. I think it would be imprudent to do nothing while waiting for either of these scenarios.

  • Skean Dhude

    Skvez,

    Fair enough. I do believe wind power has its place. At individual’s homes, boats, sheds and the like but not providing the main source, or even a significant portion, of power. I think that future power generations should be nuclear as it is the only one we have working at the moment to be replaced, when due, with a TMSR, nuclear fusion or whatever is working.

    Wind power is only affordable now with massive subsidies taken from general power users by force and given to wind power providers. The news has several stories about wind turbines. The one on the M4 seems to rotate fine and is always working when I go past but it generated £100K worth of power last year and remember, that is on artificially high payments, while it is subsidised by the government, who just love wind by £160K pa. In another case, the eco town in Scotland, went without power late last year and had to have some piped in over the grid from nuclear stations in France or they would have frozen. Funny that didn’t make front page news when the building of it did.

    In theory wind works fine but in practise it is a failure at the levels we require to be a working industrial society.

    I do however agree with you on the reliance on gas, oil and coal. We should wean ourselves off that. As far as nuclear waste goes we do need to sort that. We just don’t seem to have grasped that nettle and I don’t see why. Another case of leaving things for our children.

    I believe that in the future solar power will improve to the level where we can all power our houses from it even in cloudy days. This coupled with clean power like hydroelectric, tidal and fusion providing the backbone will be the way of the future in power generation.

    I’m not against renewables but they should really work as advertised before we start to base policy on them.

    You will see that I do have articles coming on solar panels, wind turbines and hydro turbines. They all have a place in our toolkit.

  • Skvez

    Skean,

    I have to disagree with you on Nuclear; until some semblance of a policy on how to realistically store tons of nuclear waste exists it’s irresponsible to continue to create it. Nuclear waste isn’t a problem for just our children some of the radioactive components have half-lives in the thousands of years. This is longer than stainless steal or concrete are going to last. When you consider a TEOTWAWKI scenario, without maintenance a high percentage of nuclear reactors will have their used fuel pool boil dry and burn, spreading nuclear waste downwind in a Chernobyl-like manner. Nuclear is not the answer.

    Regrettably even if Solar cells were 100% efficient they wouldn’t be suitable for bulk power generation in the UK. On cloudy days the radiated power from the sun reaching the earth surface typically drops to less than 2% of direct sunlight. Solar also works when I don’t need it (during the day when I’m out at work) and doesn’t work when I do (when I come home in the evening). If you’re going to have huge amounts of batteries to store this power you might as well do the same thing with the wind power. The cost of power from wind is about 2/3 that of solar (it’s difficult to put an exact figure on this as wind requires some maintenance whereas solar generally doesn’t). I have a number of solar cells, they are useful in small niche situations but not for the majority of my power requirements.
    For 33 days in December 2010/Jan 2011 I ran a test on a “20W” solar cell, in the UK. Data was captured every 10 minutes by a data logger, the average power produced by the cell over that time was ….. 0.097W. If you live somewhere equatorial with cloudless sunny days then consider solar, if you live in the UK, don’t.

    *All* renewable energy is only economically viable with subsidies but we need to work on improving the alternatives before the scarcity of fuel results in blackouts. The UK has probably the best tidal and wind opportunities of any country in the world, we should be investing in research to be world leaders in these technologies.

    Wind should not be the majority of the UK’s generation but it’s the best renewable on offer at this time and can be a useful (minority) source.

  • Skean Dhude

    Skvez,

    I see where you are coming from. I can understand that but in my view we are already walking this road. We are already storing the waste and we should now be working on that issue whilst using nuclear power until a viable alternative is found. Safety features in the event of a TEOTWAWKI scenario can and should be built it at the design stage.

    I wasn’t talking about solar cells for bulk power production in the UK. I was talking about each home providing someof its own power to reduce the load on the grid. As far as solar farms though, if we got a worldwide agreement we could site them in the Middle East and supply the world. A replacement for oil so to speak. I libe in the NW of England and manage to charge several items, includingmy laptop, from solar panels. It is not a house but it does help.

    I agree with what you say about tidal and wind opportunities. It is windy here. But I just do not see wind being reliable enough for our society. Maybe as power out in a survival situation but not for the grid. Planning on having nuclear, coal or gas on standby to pick up the slack when the wind stops is a daft policy.

    Bottom line. I’m not against wind power as power generation. I am of the believe that is has it’s uses in a survivalsituation. Just not in a significant role in a power policy for a country. When we get a clean fusion reactor going we will drop renewables like a shot. We will not have an option.

  • Skvez

    The Nuclear industry does *not* presently have a viable long term waste storage strategy. They store it short term in the hope that a good long term solution will appear. It hasn’t in the last 50 years and there is no sign it will in the next 50. Meanwhile the *costs* of secure storage of this waste make nuclear not economic. How much money do you set aside to fund people to re-package and re-package and re-package nuclear waste and guard the site for a thousand years?

    All power sources have an up time that is less than 100% (even nuclear needs periodic maintenance). It is very uncommon for there to be insufficient wind to drive wind turbines across the whole of the UK. No matter what source you use there is always ‘spinning reserve’ and quick start reserve incase of loss of a power station. I admit you need more of this with wind but it’s not “a daft policy” it’s standard operating practice to ensure you can ride through unexpected loss of any generation source.

  • Skean Dhude

    Skvez,

    I know, I agree it is a ridiculous situation. Something needs to be done. I suspect they are waiting for viable space travel so they can send it all to the sun rather than finding a way to make it safe.

    If it was not for the green agenda wind would not even be on the table. If it was so good it would have been looked at already as wind power is older than any other, except hydro. I’ve looked at the costs and the output figures and do not think that they are viable from the data I have seen. Of course, when the politicians put a surcharge on coal, gas, nuclear power stations then we will revisit it. Personally, I see a riot being caused if they do that.

    I think we can both agree though that wind power has its place in a survival situation. Nuclear power will not be an option then although what happens to the nuclear power stations and the nuclear waste will undoubtedly be a major consideration for us while we prepare.

  • Skvez

    Transporting nuclear waste into orbit *safely* will require a space elevator.

    I admit wind is more expensive than oil, or coal or gas (I maintain it’s still cheaper than Nuclear when you consider long term storage of the waste). It’s less expensive than solar (in the UK). The point of having a modest percentage of the UK’s energy come from wind (say 25%) is that it makes us less reliant on imports of fuel as the wind fuel is free and the UK has lots of it. I don’t believe we should be pushing for 100% of our energy from wind or any other source for that matter, I’m a great believer in diversity of supply. I do strongly believe wind has a place as part of that diversity.

    In a survival situation wind has its place but wind turbines are virtually impossible to hide (they should be placed 10m above the nearest object for 100m to avoid wind eddies). Few of us have the land to place one and houses were not designed for the vibration they impose if people try and fit them to their rooftops. In a modest short-term grid-down scenario they would be a good idea but in a TEOTWAWKI scenario; they scream “Here lives someone who has prepared”.

    http://www.otherpower.com/ is a good site for anyone considering making their own wind turbine.

  • Skean Dhude

    Skvez,

    Agreed. Even then I would have concerns about lifting it into orbit especially with Iran and the rest of the world wanting a reactor, for peaceful purposes of course. Think of the damage it could do if released in orbit.

    I don’t consider 25% wind to be modest by any means. I’d go for 15% tops as long as we ensured that our nuclear, coal, gas whatever could be extended to cover any shortfall. Of course the more we go with wind, or solar for that matter, the less chance we have of cover.

    The visibility, noise and location issues with a turbine is one reason I lean away from wind. It is so easy to see and noisy where you are. However if you are out in he wilds of Scotland and have a wind turbine it would be less of a problem. For those in a town environment then something removable or smaller turbines, for boats, are available to power small units. I don’t see us needing to power our houses they way we do now. Power will be a luxury and used for critical things only.

    That site has links to hydro power as well, a quiet and easily hidden power source that would be useful out in the wilds as this country is hilly and wet. Plus, it has plans for a steam engine, although not as quiet it will probably be the longest lasting unit we could make when things settle down.

  • Skvez

    Not to flog a dead horse I just wanted to remind you all of the risks of Nuclear. Japan has been hit by a Tsunami and we are all watching the news to see if the two damaged nuclear plants have / will leak any radioactive material. No-one is in the least concerned whether the coal plants will leak coal dust, the oil plants will leak oil, or if any wind turbines fell over. Maybe they did, maybe they didn’t, no big deal, but a radioactive leak … thats a big deal.
    Now imagine an TEOTWAWKI situation. All plants *everywhere* will be in this situation with *no-one* trying to get in to monitor/fix them.

  • Skean Dhude

    Skvez,

    It amazes me that with the number of earthquakes they get in Japan why they look at putting Nuclear plants there.

    Nuclear plants do need a lot of maintenance. I don’t want to be near one if we were in a Survial situation.

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