By Cam Mather
You know what I’m really tired of? Watching newscasts in which people who are without electricity during a blackout complain about it. It’s invariably storm related and it’s completely unnecessary. When the U.S. was being walloped by winter storms last month there were people whining on the news every night. With the technology that exists today people have the choice of whether or not they want to be totally dependent on the electricity grid. If you roll the dice and hope the power will never go off, then when you lose the bet you should take your lumps and not complain about it. No one ever said the electricity would flow flawlessly, forever. In fact the more I learn about electricity and the grid, the more I’m amazed it even works at all. It is simply the largest, most complex machine we’ve ever built and the last time I checked, machines break.
I find when I work at my neighbor Ken’s place, which is on the grid, I marvel at the wonder of the grid all the more. When I installed my solar thermal system I had to weld together a steel frame so that my solar thermal panel would sit at a 45° angle on my back porch roof. When I fired up Ken’s welder to do the job there was a huge load placed on the grid. Ken is at the end of a power line and so every time I hit the trigger of that welder the grid had to sense a huge load and instantly have the juice to handle it. Even though most of the time the loads on this line would be pretty manageable, if I started the welder at the same time someone else’s well pump clicked on, and someone’s fridge came on, and the compressor on someone’s heat pump clicked on, etc. the load must have been enormous and yet the power company had to be ready. We’re not close to any power plants so that electricity had to travel an enormous distance the instant the load was turned on. It’s simply a miracle. It’s a miracle but those of us who have always had the luxury of it, don’t appreciate it.
I have been openly critical of large power utilities for being so resistant to having small generators pump renewable energy onto the grid, but I have to admit I understand the challenges it must present for them. It’s a manageable challenge but a challenge none-the-less. The fact they’ve been able to engineer this wondrously marvelously complex machine we call the grid tells me they can do it, even if it presents some unique challenges. I think often it’s just been that they’re lazy and like the status quo, which is to have large-scale centralized power generation facilities that they control, do all the work. But life IS complex. I had to figure out how to keep my computer software up-to-date and I learned how to send a text message on my cell phone and I have figured out how to use the “Self-Serve” check out line at the grocery store. The power utilities need to just get over it. Suck it up and deal with small generators. We need green power and ultimately so do they.
If you’re a homeowner expect power outages. If you have a furnace with a fan, when the power goes out you won’t have heat. Your pipes will freeze. You will get cold. If you live in the country your pump won’t work. You won’t have water. Your fridge won’t keep things cold. This is what will ultimately happen. Grids go down so deal with it.
You DO have some options though. Step one; get a small battery backup to charge your cell phone. Step two; get a generator so that you can at least run your furnace fan so your pipes won’t freeze. Step three; get some solar panels on your roof and a battery backup. Step four. Stop whining. Next time the power goes off your family shouldn’t notice the difference. Sure, telling ghost stories by candlelight during a black out was fun when you were a kid, but with the technology available today it’s soooo 1950s.