Power Through a Hurricane

When living in an area that is prone to natural disasters, it’s helpful to keep something on hand for backup power. While a large number of people chose to use generators, they are often unreliable (or poorly maintained), noisy, produce dangerous carbon monoxide, or run on a fuel supply that might not be available indefinitely. For truly reliable backup power, [Jay] has turned to a battery bank to ride through multi-day power outages.

While the setup doesn’t run his whole house, it isn’t intended to. One of the most critical things to power is the refrigerator, so this build focuses on keeping all of his food properly stored through the power outage. During the days following Hurricane Irma, the system could run the refrigerator for 10-11 hours, and the thermal insulation could keep everything cold or frozen overnight. Rather than using solar panels to charge the batteries, the system instead gets energy from the massive battery of his electric vehicle. [Jay] was out of power for 64 hours, and this system worked for him (and at a better cost) than a generator would have.

With the impact of major storms on many areas this year, we’ve been seeing a lot of interesting ways that people deal with living in areas impacted by these disasters. Besides riding through power outages, we’ve also seen the AARL step in to help, and also taken a look at how robust building codes in these areas help mitigate property damage in the first place.


45 thoughts on “Power Through a Hurricane

  1. I would never go with batteries. It is not hard to put a small gas engine up for storage and given I own a house and have several gas powered devices, I have a decent supply of fuel. More than enough to outlast any battery setup I am likely to come across. And as far as the deadly gasses go, remember that your battery is most likely venting explosive gasses while it charges.

    1. I think it’d be a good idea to have both. What if most of your fuel supplies get swamped in the disaster? At least batteries don’t care where the power comes from; it could be the sun, heat, mechanical energy, whatever.

  2. >or run on a fuel supply that might not be available indefinitely

    But without solar panels or some other generator, doesn’t the electric car battery act exactly the same? Or does he push it up and down hills for the regenerative braking to refill the battery?

    1. A friend of mine lives off grid and used his volt as extra capacity. Solar charges it back up during the day. If all else fails he can recharge the battery via the car’s engine.

      1. Actually, for one of my off grid buildings I have been toying with using a car engine to power a big assed alternator, like from an ambulance or something else that has a lot of electronics and a larger battery, like from a semi. That would drive a 5KW inverter. I would also run the cars coolant through radiators in the building for heat in the cold weather. This has a lot of plusses if you know people. I can probably score the car and perhaps even the alternator for free. I may be able to score a big battery for free. I have scored free radiators, and I have a stash of soft copper tubing. I would need to buy some ball valves, and fabricate a bracket for the alternator and find a place for the inverter and the battery. BTW, yes, I am a major pack rat, but it lets you pull off interesting things for free (smile).

    2. I never actually had to recharge it (it has a 24 kWh capacity, and I only used about 10kWh of that over the 3 day outage running my fridge). But, had I needed to, there was an EVSE about 2 miles away that had power only one day after the hurricane, I could have driven to that and “refilled”. [Or I could have asked any of several neighbors running noisy generators for an extension cord.]

  3. I use a old military generator that was converted to run on propane. It great for standby use since propane does not go bad like gasoline and wont kill you from the fumes. I was out of power for about 3 days this last winter/spring and I ran it about 8 hours a day and used about 24 gallons of propane. I also have a 48v in, 1kw true sine inverter I plan on putting together with a bank of very large gel cells to charge while the generator is running and then switch to inverter when the generator is off.

      1. Oh, there is still CO but pretty significantly less than gasoline. That’s one of the reasons it is used for indoor floor buffers and forklifts. And just less fumes in general.

  4. If you have a non-electric car (and fuel) you already have a modest 12V generator and newer cars will idle at very low fuel consumption levels. But wait…is there enough current? Thanks to the demands of ridiculously big car stereos, you can get a 250A (3400W at 13.6V) alternator for ~$150 (about the cost of a portable 1 kW generator) and have it lurk under the hood until needed.

        1. In some countries it is Illegal to have the car idling for extended periods of time, and sometimes even when driving, as it could be so much congestion that the traffic is just still, or a bridge is open. This ruling is to lower emissions, but not all places in the world has such a law. (And electric cars do normally not needing to follow this rule.)

          But I would still be surprised if the police enforced that rule during a major blackout, especially if one is using it to generate power.

      1. I as well would be surprised, if the police where to state one couldn’t allow a care to idle for an extended period of time when there is widespread blackout. Unless that practice.is being done in a manner that endangers others nearby.

  5. And here I sit in Sweden where the last major power outage were for 2 hours a few years back. All other outages has only been at home and has been fixed by a new fuse…

    Even larger data centers where I live have much of reserve power, something they did learn once when the power did actually go out. And yes, they do have UPS systems just in case, but those lasts minutes, not an hour…

    I think different parts of the world has different problems with the reliability of the power grid. And well, here the problem at least is when the power isn’t there, as who buys an expensive ups system, or a backup generator if the power goes out for two hours once in three decades.

    I have honestly not even seen the lights flicker… I need to travel more. When is the next power outage in the states?

    1. For power-outage purposes, I’d recommend travelliing to where there’s a lot of construction going on.

      I lived in Shanghai, in what is now a tech district, in the mid-90s. There was so much new building that we’d lose power a few times per week. Our office building had a backup in the basement, and we never had issues, but you’d see all the lights go out in the dorm at once.

    2. I can recommend India in this regard. :-) Around 1,5 years ago I have been there and although the state Goa, where I have traveled, is regarded as more wealthy than the average of India, we had more than one power outage per day, lasting between several minutes and an hour. Most of the guest houses and store had battery backup, few had generators, probably some had nothing. Normally one light (or several) per room and the ceiling fan were connected to the system. Fridge or A/C not (too much power).

    3. when next?
      who knows…

      My Dad went missing during the 1998 ice storm. Turns out the radio told of a command centre ~100 miles away having issues getting resources, matching needs and distributing (small city/various towns/rural mix). Being retired military, he drove out and took over, got things organized, then stayed and took shifts. He wandered home days later when it was over.
      I drove around in 4×4 with ice tires, with my chainsaw in the back, running errands for people who weren’t mobile. A friend went out to a farm community and drove generators around so farmers could take turns milking their cows, cooling their fridge and running their furnaces.
      A number of communities were without power in the two to three week range. A very small minority, two months. It wasn’t a break or two or a dozen in the lines in to them, but entire lines flattened surrounding them. Time to restore was based on the hundreds of kilometres of flattened lines to, in and around those communities.

      The 2003 event had me leaving the fridge door closed until I quickly pulled something out. And cooking over beeswax candles.

      Ongoing, many minor outages roving around the region due to various weather events taking various lines down or electrical stations out. A number of times each year, various communities within my “city” experience outages from a few hours to a few days; greater times the further out of town you are. Common for people to leave freezer packs or containers of water in their freezers and fridges. More thermal mass for more time to safely eat your food. Rural areas – and a healthy number of city folk – ensure they’ve got their BBQ propane topped up before winter. Others went for natural gas BBQs and fireplace inserts that don’t need to run thermostats nor blower fans.

  6. The fridge? Sure you didn’t mean the sump pump? The fridge you can stretch to 5 days by putting a couple gallon jugs of water in to freeze a day or two ahead the approaching disaster, or just keep blue freeze packs in it all the time for the unexpected (as I do). A roast or turkey take half a day to thaw on the counter so they help! Can also add blankets to the freezer for more insulation. Canned and dry food is what you keep for longer. Canned Ham, Whole smoked turkey. Sardines, corned beef, dry goods, noodles. Eggs, you coat with vaseline and keep in cool place, they’ll hold up 2 wks. You need potable water more than anything else. Shut off the water heater, close the valves, 40 gallons water right there. Fill the bathtub. Fill the washer. You do keep some empty jugs around, right?

    We had a big outage here some years back. 3rd day without power was neighborhood wide grill-out day as everything in the freezers thawed and everyone shared. Most fun I ever had here! Set the 12V tv up on the car and neighbors came over to watch the news nightly to see if power was ever coming back on. The storm flipped planes and smashed hangars at the airport next to us, power out over a wide area. Power was out a week but there was water pressure. Another few days and the city sanitary sewer would have backed up. Ever look at how that works? Needs power! Hope you’re not on bottom of hill!

    1. “Farm fresh” (or normal eggs for most of the world) keeps fresh for around 3 weeks to a month out on a table.
      But well, if one doesn’t have such, then I personally would make eggs the first day.

      But I do think it sounds nice to have a neighborhood get together, especially during such times.

      That makes one wonder if the community couldn’t have a generator together, and then simply put a fuse to each house, limiting how much they can take at max. After all, keeping a small generator of a few kw in working order can’t cost all to much, especially if many houses shear the cost, and fule could be propane, methane, or other long lasting gas, so refueling it every five or so years doesn’t get to be a problem.

      But as you say, there are other problems, like the sewer system not working, that one can’t be all to fun…

    2. “a couple gallon jugs of water” in the fridge? First you have to freeze them – no space left in the freezer, than you have to place them in the fridge – no space for food in the fridge. Plus I would have to take out the racks to place even one 4l jug of something in the fridge. But you could stuff the empty space in the fridge with canned beer, so you have plenty of cold beer normally and the extra thermal mass keeps it cool for longer. :-)
      Not everybody has (needs) a sump pump.

  7. A man in Japan (Atsushi Shimizu, the founder of Challenergy) invented this last year. It is a Hurricane-Proof Wind Power Generator that exploits the MAGNUS FORCES. It’s being tested in Okinawa since April 2017. So far so good! It can be deployed before a hurricane hits and provide power for the entire storm. If it is guyed, bolted, or anchored down good it can withstand possibly CAT1-4 or maybe CAT5. It can provide wind power normally too. If the bottom half was in a bomb-proof concrete bunker even better.

        1. Ostracus – There is a solar cell paint that the USG (US Govt) hamstringed the inventor by making his invention not for public domain any more. It looked promising but they made him a deal he literally could not refuse. It used nanotechnology to make a solar cell photoelectric paint. That was it’s name too NANOSOLAR. The ‘party line’ cover story was that the Chinese out priced him with more powerful standard rigid solar cells. That is just garbage. A PAINT is revolutionary when all you need to do is staple down your bared leads on a roof and just paint over them. It’s flexible and wont break like the rigid kind. USG uses it for military and government solar cell projects. He’s a rich man now.

          There is a device which can magnify wind gusts in a low wind area. It is just a funnel placed in front of a wind turbine.

      1. Miroslav – Me too. However, I tried to think of an idea to use jet engine turbines but I stopped and said let me Google this first and I found this. It’s still in proof of concept phase back in April 2017 waiting for the next Japanese Typhoon. We could have used this thing in Puerto Rico and USVI. However, too late.

        1. Interesting. Since power is going up as a cube of wind speed, I often thought that in tornado prone areas such systems would have been cost-effective even if they run only for few days per year.

          I thought earlier of various schemes: using turbines to lift weights (gravity energy storage), to spin turbines equipped with flywheels (rotational energy storage), then huge capacitors (apartment building size) that would store charges from lightning, etc. Some of those would probably work.

          It is good to prepare. Wars, revolutions, economic crises, floods, tornadoes …

          1. > huge capacitors (apartment building size) that would store charges from lightning

            Why am I reminded of the guy in highschool who liked to try to catch javelins…

  8. Another idea many corporations and US Govt and Military are exploiting is underground concrete bunker-ed Bloom Energy Servers (or the Bloom Box). It is a solid oxide fuel cell (SOFC) power generator made by Bloom Energy, of Sunnyvale, California, that takes a variety of input fuels, including liquid or gaseous hydrocarbons produced from biological sources, to produce electricity at or near the site where it will be used. You can put one in a car too. The only by-product is H2O. The only gotcha’ is that it literally uses a “secret sauce” that it’s inventor will not divulge. It’s a fuel cell.

    That’s the inventor K. R. Sridhar…

    1. Is the secret sauce glowing in the dark? I remember an old SF short story about an inventor who built a flying car and need more money to create a better version. It was advertised as being a normal petrol car, but secretly it had two nuclear powered batteries installed, but that still wouldn’t be sufficient to power the vehicle.

      1. Turing Complete Machine Machine Machine Mach…. The secret sauce is some sort of green goop with layers of other goop which when exposed to a hydrocarbon gas it produces oodles of electricity. Sorry for the elementary description. That’s just how secret it is. Try Googling. You will see that it’s far past proof of concept stage. It is being used by MAJOR American corporations and USG. KR’s bona-fides is that he was tasked by NASA to make a oxygen supply system for NASA Mars mission astronauts. He did. But the by-product was this miraculous thing. This is no phony perpetual motion B.S. this is REAL stuff. Google it. I’m sure our HaD physicists will back me up on this. This is revolutionary stuff. People are trying to replicate it in lab unsuccessfully. KR is laughing all the way to the bank too.

  9. I belong to an email group that had an eclectic cast of characters and tolerated an equally eclectic topics as long as civility was maintain. On of the members was a low income woman, who along with her husband was disabled. She expressed concerned over power outages during New England Winters. I responded that their care could b their lifeline. The vehicle’s alternator could charge batteries to could keep the furnace blower running and the refer operational. The engine’s coolant system could provide heat into the home as well as it does for the car’s cabin.

  10. If his only mission critical load is a lone refrigerator. It would’ve been more efficient to acquire a DC powered fridge (plenty of units out there – I have 2 Dometic high capacity units) – vs – using lossy inverters to power a conventional AC appliance.

    1. If you need it only very rarely then the inverter can be more economic. I have a WAECO/dometic 12V camping fridge/freezer box. It works fine but cost around €400, although it has only 18l volume.

      The 600W pure sine wave inverter (from china) cost around €50. But I have to admit, I had to modify the old fridge (around 100 to 120l of volume) in the garden house (no grid, only small solar): I had to add a starting capacitor to reduce it’s start-up current and enable it to start with reduced voltage. Before it drew more than 1kW at start up and sent the inverter into the power limit instead of starting up. The inverter took about 50A, but the compressor only hummed until it switched off because of the overcurrent. Now it works.

  11. In my case even if I’m out of power there is almost always power somewhere nearby and people are happy to let me charge a couple of deep cycle RV batteries. While the downside is I have to heft them in and out of the car the upside is I don’t have to own a generator.

    Next step in this evolution would be portable PowerWalls, lighter, higher capacity and hot swappable. Maybe later when the cell price comes down.

  12. Hard to beat a small inverter generator running off a regular 20 Lb propane tank. It’s enough to run the fridge and a small microwave, and propane has the huge advantage of not going bad from storage. Also, you can use it to run your grill, both normally and in an outage.

  13. AARL? Don’t you mean the ARRL, who actually provided communications support for the dastardly windsorm? Or perhaps the Auburn Avenue Research Library, whose books would only have gotten wet?

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