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Identify what you need to put aside – pt 13 – Power

The next article in our series ‘Identify what you need to put aside‘ is Power.

Power in the convenient form of electricity is the bedrock of a modern society. Everything we do or want to do uses electrical power or could be converted to. Its removal in any event will be the biggest immediate culture shock to most of us in the western world even if it is not in reality actually the most important thing to us. Unless of course you are on a life support system.

What gives us power now?
Power can come in many forms but to the end user, us, it is usually provided as;

  • Electricity
  • Gas
  • Liquid fuels

How are they used?
Where we use electricity for everything, we tend to use gas for two things; first to cook our food and the second to heat our homes. Both of these services can, and are, also provided via electricity. Liquid fuels, as in the form of kerosene or fuel oil are also used to heat our homes or in an alternative form diesel, petrol or kerosene to provide portable fuel for vehicles. Again, electricity can and is increasingly being used for that purpose but so far storage limitations limit the take up. Both liquid fuels and gas however can be stored in containers for later use where we do not store electricity in this way unless it is to power portable devices or provide a fallback to power failure. Stored gas lasts a long time in the containers while fuel, which has been refined, loses its potency over time while electricity simply dissipates over several months.

What would be available in a disaster scenario?
It is going to be impossible for us to acquire gas to replenish our supplies although we can use our stored gas containers whilst they have gas in them which will be handy at first. A Mad Max scenario like the pig sewage farming in Thunderdome would not be worthwhile. The return for the work invested would make it impractical. We will also find it impossible to tap into an oil well and refine fuel oil from there but luckily we have an alternative here which is to use bio fuels, vegetable oils, from plants which we can grow for that use and we get them from common plants such as rape and sunflower which are grown in the UK. The question is would you spend this valuable resource on fuel or use it for food? I would guess it depends on how much you crop you have available. Regardless it is worthwhile making sure your vehicles will run on pure vegetable oil and learning how to make the bio fuel from your plants. Information is available on how to make the fuel whilst the manufacturer will know if your vehicle will run bio fuels. Many old diesels will whilst the new ones are too fussy about the purity. Remember that the original diesel engine was developed with peanut oil in mind, Thank you Rudolf Diesel, but there was not enough profit there for the fuel companies or the taxman and we were sold more expensive and less environmentally friendly fuels by the large corporations. Thank you very much. Screwed again.

What is best?
The realistic way for us to produce power for long term regular use is to produce electricity and, be in no doubt, electricity is going to be necessary for us to progress as a society. Everything we have runs on electricity in some form, everything we want to do can be powered by electricity in some form and everything we need to do to get back on our feet will require electricity.

Can electricity do everything we need?
In one area alone fuel oil stands supreme as a power source. Most of our agricultural equipment and heavy plant uses fuel oil as power. We may be required to take a step back and use horses and oxen to drag our ploughs or haul lumber if we cannot get vegetable oil working as an alternative fuel for this equipment. No harvesters, tractors or plant equipment uses electricity as the sheer power requirement and usage makes them impractical. Perhaps in a few years when battery power or fuel cells are further developed but not now.

So, beside that single exception, electricity is the way we want to go for power generation.

How can we generate electricity?
We can generate electricity by several different ways. Skvez has articles on the options available to us for generating electricity.

In my view we would ideally be looking at using 12V equipment for our use for practical reasons. Readily available portable units for boats and the like produce 12V via wind turbines or solar panels which we could couple together to make a local, retreat wide, electrical supply which would have power generated by wind turbine and solar panels and used by 12V light, heaters and cookers while excess was stored in batteries for later use. For the occasional bit of equipment that just has to have 240V we could use an inverter like we do with main equipment in our cars now.

If you have the environment for a 240V water turbine or a full scale wind turbine then you may chose to stick with 240V as your base. Either way generating electricity and storing it for later use is the goal the voltage is what is going to be best for your environment. The difference is different equipment and generating 240v and storing it is specialist stuff where 12V generation and storage is in a moped, car, truck, boat, motor home, etc. is common and can be easily bought now.

To this end we should be looking at buying 240V/12V equipment for all our survival uses. Radios, lights, heaters, cookers, fridges, freezers, radar, sonar, sat nav, small engines, etc. all have 12V versions which are used in cars, trucks, boats and motor homes. All would be usable with a 12V or 240V local supply. We could even set up this local supply now and save on our power usage before the green thievery taxes really kick in.

How do we store electricity
At the moment we store our excess electricity in batteries which we can call on when the sun is not shining and the wind is not blowing. Batteries however wear out, they lose storage capacity as the chemicals become inert. Our batteries will not last forever so we either learn to make our own or we may have to store it in other ways, for example, using the excess electricity to pump water up a tower and store it as kinetic energy instead which we can release when required to turn a turbine and convert the water flow back to electricity. Conversion is very inefficient and we will waste a lot of energy in any conversion process.

What we need to put in for our local supplies
Our electrical expert, Skvez, recommends you put in separate wiring for the 12V grid and use special 12V plugs and sockets on this local supply separate from the existing 240V cables we have already. This will mitigate the risk of the power coming back on or you accidentally plugging a 240V generator into the 12V wires.

If you don’t have any wires to install this 12V local supply though you can run the 12V over the cables we have now for 240V use. We could just disconnect it from the mains supply and wire all our 12V equipment to use plugs and sockets for ease of use. Obviously this will not work in reverse as 12V wiring would melt if 240V was used and start an electrical fire. If you put both, 12V and 240V, in because you have a nice 240V generator then ensure that the wiring is kept separate, labelled with the correct voltage on and they use different plugs and sockets to stop accidental insertion of 12V units into the 240V supply.

WARNING :
12V and 240V will not mix. Any 12V gear will be destroyed, explode or catch fire if plugged into a 240V supply. Believe me I know. You will need to ensure you do not mix them if you have access to a 240V source such as a generator. Keep the wiring separate and labelled with the correct voltage and ensure each voltage uses different plugs and sockets. Keep the 240V on UK mains plugs and sockets while you use another for 12V.

What do I need?
At this stage it depends on the power generation option you choose. You can start small with a small solar panel to power your radio, lights or heating coils. If the weather is windy where you are then a wind turbine may be a better start. You then add to it, as you can afford it, new generation facilities or storage until you have your off grid systems that meets your requirements. Either way, read some articles on generating power, start here, and make up your mind what will be best for your requirements.

What are you looking at?
I have a list of items to meet my requirements which I have listed below for interest. I’m working on purchasing them and integrating them into my home now. The quantities depend on your situation and your requirements so I have not listed them. Suffice to say you need spares and as they are mainly non perishables it is better to have too many than not enough.

  • 240V
    • 240V Diesel Generator (Must run on BioFuel)
    • Fuel
  • 12V
    • Solar Panels
    • Wind Turbine
    • Invertor (12V to 240V)
    • Deep Cycle Batteries
    • Electrical cable
    • 12V Equipment
      • Plugs
      • Sockets
      • Light bulbs
      • Radios
      • Anything else as per your requirements * (see note below)

* During the writing of this article I discovered something new about efficiency. Skvez informed me 12V fridges tend to be optimised to be small and light rather than efficient. They tend to have poor insulation (compared to their full-size counterparts) and therefore need more energy to run. Thus a 240V one on a 12V invertor is more efficient. More on this in later articles by Skvez.

Things to consider
If you do not want to use a local supply you can power units individually by some method such as battery or solar panels.
Power grids, local supplies and equipment are an area that would suffer from an EMP. To mitigate this risk you must store all of your equipment somewhere shielded to protect them. This is an issue for equipment you use every day so backups or EMP protected equipment must be considered.

Next up is part 14 in the series, Communication.

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