Ask Hackaday: Is Our Power Grid Smart Enough To Know When There’s No Power?

Just to intensify the feeling of impending zombie apocalypse of the COVID-19 lockdown in the British countryside where I live, we had a power cut. It’s not an uncommon occurrence here at the end of a long rural power distribution network, and being prepared for a power outage is something I wrote about a few years ago. But this one was a bit larger than normal and took out much more than just our village. I feel very sorry for whichever farmer in another village managed to collide with an 11kV distribution pole.

What pops to mind for today’s article is the topic of outage monitoring. When plunged into darkness we all wonder if the power company knows about it. The most common reaction must be: “of course the power company knows the power is out, they’re the ones making it!”. But this can’t be the case as for decades, public service announcements have urge us to report power cuts right away.

In our very modern age, will the grid become smart enough to know when, and perhaps more importantly where, there are power cuts? Let’s check some background before throwing the question to you in the comments below.

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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.

 

Parts Bin Emergency Lights Deal With Tornado’s Aftermath

Sometimes having a deep inventory of parts in your shop is a pain – the clutter, the dust, the things you can’t rationally justify keeping but still can’t bear to part with. But sometimes the parts bin delivers and lets you cobble together some emergency lighting when a tornado knocks out your power.

It has been hard to avoid discussions of the weird weather in the US this winter. The eastern half of the country has had record warm temperatures, the west has been lashed by storms, and now December tornadoes have ripped through Texas and other parts of the south, with terrible loss of life and wide-ranging property damage. [TheTimmy] was close enough to one massive EF4 tornado to lose power on Saturday night, and after the charm of a candlelight Christmas evening wore off, he headed to the shop. He had a bunch of sealed lead acid batteries from old UPSs and a tangle of 12V LED modules, and with the help of some elastic bands and jumper clips he wired up a bunch of lights for around the house. Safer than candles by a long shot, and more omnidirectional than flashlights to boot.

The power came back before the batteries ran out of juice, so we don’t get to see any hacks for recharging batteries in a grid-down scenario. Still, it’s good to see how a deep parts bin and good mindset can make a positive impact on an uncomfortable situation. We’ve seen similar hacks before, like this hacked cordless tool battery pack or powering a TV with 18650 batteries. Be sure to share your story of epic power-outage hacks in the comments below.