Just about every disaster scenario we think about will involve being without electricity in some capacity or another. We are constantly thinking about food, water and shelter, but what would we do if the lights went out for an extended period of time? These grid down energy solutions can be useful today as well as in a SHTF situation.
Don’t get me wrong, food and water should be our main concern because after all we do have the sun to depend on for at least 10 hours a day, but after a few dark nights we would be foaming at the mouth for a little light in the evenings before bed.
When we are talking about a day or 2 this is pretty easy to figure out, have some extra batteries, a few flashlights and even some candles. If we are talking about longer than that or more than just some cozy candle light we are going to need to think a little larger.
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I like to think of this in short, medium and long term. If the power goes out overnight you can probably just use the camping supplies you have or the flashlights laying around. If it lasts longer you might need to have some extra fuel on hand for cooking and heating. If the grid is down for more than a couple of weeks you are going to need to pull out the big guns.
Before we get into alternative forms of energy for these small, medium and long term grid down events I want to explain how much energy we really might need on a daily basis. Keep in mind, I don’t mean how much we use now, I mean how much we will need to use.
Appliance Energy Usage
I am not going to go into a lot of detail here about complicated power conversion calculations because I wrote this article about my portable solar charger that has a few examples and a cheat sheet. The only calculations you really need to know are…
- Amps = watts / volts
- Volts = watts / amps
- Watts = volts X amps
Most appliances like a refrigerator, a fan or a light bulb will tell you their wattage, some items like a laptop will not and you have to figure it out. Like I said, the article I linked to above has all those power conversions.
If you are using a generator it’s a little easier because you don’t need to figure out amp hours, battery banks have stored energy, and generators use fuel to make energy. Here are a few examples of how many watts a typical appliance uses.
Refrigerator: 700 Watts – 58 Amp Hours from battery.
Microwave: 1500 Watts – 125 Amp Hours from battery. (About 2 Amp Hour per minute.)
Oscillating Fan: 200 Watts – 17 Amp Hours from battery.
Space Heater: 1800 Watts – 150 Amp Hours from battery.
What Does All This Mean?
Power Inverter: A power inverter takes DC current and turns it into AC current which we use to power our home and appliances. A generator basically takes energy from the fuel, and through a built in power inverter creates alternate current (AC).
You can also buy a standalone power inverter ranging in price from $50 to $400 depending on the watt rating. If you plan on running the refrigerator for a couple of hours in the morning, a space heater a few hours a day or a window fan you need to make sure you have a power inverter (or generator) that can handle the wattage.
Startup Wattage: Most appliances take double the wattage to start up, a 1000 watt refrigerator might take 2000 watts when it starts, and because of this you will need at least a 2000 watt power inverter to run the refrigerator. 2 times the wattage is just an estimate, but you never want to go over the wattage your power inverter can handle.
Before you go out and buy a generator or a power inverter add up the wattage on everything you will need during an emergency situation and make sure you get one that will handle the load you are putting on it.
Small Scale Power Options
Most power outages we will face only last a few hours to a few days at most, situations like these might not require a large generator, although it wouldn’t hurt. Our children might think that this is the end of the world, but the truth is it will probably only be an inconvenience. If you depend on electricity for medical reasons you should treat every power outage as a long term power outage and take the necessary measures.
If you are just starting out prepping you should worry about the basics first, and then build up your supplies over time. Once you get the basics covered you can move on to bigger and better things, and some of these can be purchased at garage sales and thrift stores so it doesn’t cost you an arm and a leg.
Here are a few supplies that can help you out in a short term grid down event…
- Rechargeable Batteries
- Crank Powered Lights
- NOAA Weather Radios
- Solar Yard Lights
- Oil Lamps
- Extra gasoline and/or propane stored
- Extra wood for a fireplace
Medium Scale Power Outages
When I talk about medium term off grid events I am thinking about something that lasts more than a few days and no more than a few weeks. An event like this that lasts more than a week will involve more than just keeping warm (or cool) and having light, it will involve security as well.
Most people aren’t prepared to handle a couple of days without power, let alone a couple of weeks. At this point you need to start thinking about how you might become a target. If people see light coming from your home, hear your generator or smell what you are cooking they might be knocking on your door very soon, and it probably won’t be a friendly visit.
Blackout your windows: If you find yourself in a situation where you have prepared and others have not you want to do whatever you can to avoid becoming a target. Covering your windows to avoid bringing attention to yourself will be a good safety precaution.
Even if people aren’t concerned about taking your flashlight they might be thinking that is you have light, then you have prepared for this and you have food and water also.
Cooking Smells: Just like light coming from your window in a completely dark neighborhood being beacon to your home, the smell from cooking on your outdoor grill will travel a long way down wind.
Canned food, boxed meals and long term food storage food products are a great way to cook food your family will eat without attracting unwanted attention. There are many reasons why long term food storage is a good idea, but the main reason is that all you have to do is boil some water and you are good to go.
Your options for cooking indoors is going to be limited, after all it’s just a little dangerous bringing the propane grill inside. Some people might have a fireplace that could be an option, or instead of powering the stove (if you have the option) why not purchase a small hot plate? The average hot plate uses around 800 watts, which means it will use 16 Amps from a battery every 15 minutes. The typical electric stove will pull 2 to 3 times that many watts.
Blend In With the Crowd: People will run out of supplies like food and water very quickly, at this point their survival instinct will kick in. This makes you a target because you have more than they do, and if they find out they will try to get what you have by any means necessary.
Just because we have prepared for a grid down situation like this doesn’t mean we can sit back and relax, we need to do the same things as everyone else without putting ourselves in danger.
- Wear baggy clothes to make yourself look like you are losing weight.
- If others are out looking for food, make sure you are noticed doing the same thing.
- Sanitation is important, but don’t look or smell too clean.
- Watch what you do with your trash and waste, people will be paying attention.
Large Scale Events & Options
There are so many variables that go into a long term disaster scenario that it is almost impossible to say what will happen one way or another, but my feeling is that if something goes on for longer than a month everything will start to calm down.
This doesn’t mean you are out of the woods yet, it just means that most of the people who were caught off guard will be dead or gone, leaving people who understand how to survive. At this point the people who are left are not going to just storm the gates, they will be more tactical about what they are doing, after all there is a reason they have lasted this long.
At this point most if not all of your fuel will be gone, if there is gasoline or propane available the odds are it will be so expensive that you can’t afford it. Solar or renewable energy might be the only option if the power is out for longer than a month.
During the depression people would use wood from their houses, wood from fences and wood from abandoned buildings to heat their homes, if we have a solar powered battery bank we can avoid tearing down the walls.
Regardless what power options we have at this point the fact that we are still here shows that our plan worked, and the fact that we are still alive show we have the will to survive and the means to do so…and quite possibly a little luck.
Glenn Hunt says
I am interested in purchasing or building a solar powered, 5000 watt, power generator for home use. What would suggest is the best way to go and what companies manufacture the most reliable equipment? Any help is appreciated.