Blog Archives

Blackout: The Layered Approach to Coping

By: Tom Chatham

The electrification of the nation and to a larger degree the technology now seen as a necessary part of American life, are the Achilles heel of life in this country today. From cooking to sanitation to transportation to communication, most Americans can no longer do even menial day to day tasks without some kind of electrically powered equipment. We have come to rely on technology more and more as a crutch rather than a lever.

We have been blessed as a society to have tools that can multiply our strengths while covering up our weaknesses. When technology fails on a monumental scale, those strengths disappear and our weaknesses are laid bare before us. When this happens we must cope with it one way or another. Society has become so fragile today that the coping mechanism of most people is a distant memory relegated to our forefathers who could convert a four legged creature into their next meal.

Coping is a matter of knowledge and equipment. The more of both that you have in a situation, the more coping ability you will have. Ever wonder why a soldier heading off to war is so cocky? Knowledge and equipment. If you have good equipment and know how to use it your confidence is through the roof when something happens. It gives you the sense of control you need to overcome obstacles. Of the two, knowledge is by far the most important item to have. You may not have any equipment but if you need to start a fire and know 10 ways to do it without matches, you will eventually find what you need to make it happen. Knowing what to look for is the key to overcoming that obstacle.

When the power disappears and you are left with a room full of electronic paperweights, you need to have the knowledge and equipment to move to the next level of sustainability to cope with the problem. On one end of the spectrum you have full service, full bore idiot proof electrification to do most of your thinking for you. On the other end of the spectrum you have the clothes on your back and the mush between your ears with the power of a small appliance bulb. Knowledge turns that small appliance bulb into a finely tuned laser capable of destroying any obstacle. With the proper knowledge and equipment you can maintain your sustainability near the upper end of the spectrum no matter how bad it gets.

There are different levels to preparing for loss of power. It can go from a temporary loss for a few hours to total loss of all electrical equipment for years. The greater the problem is the lower down the levels you will go making sustainability more challenging. The following levels will deal mainly with power concerns so only brief mention will be given to food, water, sanitation and security concerns. FEMA recommends that every home have a two week supply of food and water. That should be a minimum.

Level one – normal operations with full access to electrical devices and power

Level two- disruption of power systems for less than 24 hours

Level three- loss of power systems up to two weeks

Level four- loss of power systems for two weeks or longer

Level five- catastrophic destruction of power systems and some electrical devices

Level six- catastrophic destruction of power systems globally along with most or all electrical devices

Level one- All systems are functional and nothing out of the ordinary is experienced. All creature comforts are available and accessible.

Level two- Power disruptions are experienced for any of a number of reasons. The power outage will require some alternate systems to be employed to maintain normalcy. Refrigeration will cease so units should remain closed to prevent frozen foods from defrosting. Alternative power systems may include generators, power inverters or alternate energy systems to maintain limited power requirements although for this level no power is likely necessary given the short duration. This level is a survivable event even without preparations except for individuals that require medical devices for lifecare which must be addressed. As a minimum, flashlights, portable radios, candles and matches/lighters should be kept. Foods such as dry cereal, power bars and fresh produce will be sufficient to maintain most people until power returns. Bottled water, fruit juice and sodas will provide sufficient hydration under most circumstances until power returns. The security situation should be relatively normal in most cases.

Level Two

Flashlights
Extra batteries
Portable radio
Candles
Matches/lighters
Fire extinguisher 5 lb.
1st aid kit

Level Three- After the initial 24 hrs. power disruptions will start to have serious consequences for society. Refrigerated foods that are not eaten risk spoilage. People will begin to suffer from dehydration as water supplies disappear. After 72 hrs. the security situation will degrade sufficiently in urban areas to become a threat. At this level an alternative energy source is necessary to maintain living standards at acceptable levels. A generator can be utilized to maintain refrigeration and charge batteries. Generators only provide power when running and they use a lot of fuel when run continuously so to make the best use of small fuel supplies a generator should only be run a few hours in the morning and in the late afternoon to maintain refrigeration, charge batteries and cook food. The remainder of the time a power inverter/battery pack can provide limited power for CF lights and communications to keep informed. This system will provide you with power 24/7 while using the least amount of fuel which will likely be difficult to find. To conserve power, camping equipment can fill some needs such as propane for cooking and lighting. A pressure cooker can also reduce power usage by allowing some foods to be cooked much faster. Sanitation during this time will become more difficult. Urban systems will require a portable system to be used while independent septic systems will only require a supply of water to continue functioning. For apartment dwellers, a battery/inverter system recharged with a vehicle may be the most viable system for electrical power while using propane for cooking. A two week food and water supply would get you through this level.

Level Three

All level two items plus

Generator
Fuel – 5 gal. to 50 gal. depending on duration
3,000w power inverter
Deep cycle batteries
HD Extension cords
Sanitation, town system – portable toilet and waste storage means. Water to bathe
Sanitation, septic system – water supply to flush and bathe, 5 gal./person/day
Heat source to cook – Camp stove, grill, hot plate
Propane – for stove/grill 1 lb. per day
Water storage – drinking/cooking/sanitation
Manual can opener
CF bulbs
Water filter
Pressure cooker 4 qt.
1st aid kit
Defense weapon and ammo

Level Four – If this level is reached it is assumed that food and water supplies are not being transported so it is no longer viable to stay in an urban area and relocation to a less populated area is likely necessary. Without power a sustainable situation will require resources and space that are only possible in suburban or rural areas. This level can last months or even years depending on the situation. Because the duration will not be known at the time, it must be assumed at this point that the situation will continue for some time and a sustainable system of power and supply must be utilized. Renewable energy systems and food production will be a core necessity of this level. Propane appliances would be beneficial especially for refrigeration.

Level Four

All items in level three plus

Fuel Storage – 500 gal.
Propane – 400 lbs.+
Solar Panels – 1kw +
Additional deep cycle batteries
Wind turbine – 500w +
Wood gassifier system
Wood stove -Alternate source of heating/cooking
Tools – Chainsaw w/maintenance eq. & oil, ax, wood saw
Source of wood
Seeds
Garden tools
Canning supplies
Pressure cooker 21 qt.
Source of water / rain catchment system
Hunting weapon and ammo
Fishing supplies
Salt – 100 lbs +
Medical supplies

Level Five – This situation will likely result from an EMP/CME of limited duration and scope. In this instance some devices may still work if power is available so alternate sustainable systems must be utilized. Destruction of major components may impede recovery for many months making self sufficiency a key to survival. The difference between levels four and five are that a level five situation would likely disable or destroy electrical equipment that would be difficult to replace short term. In level four this equipment is still usable if the necessary power can be found to run it.

Level Five

Generator- inside a faraday cage for storage
Wood gassifier system
Tools – ax, wood saw
Solar panels/wind turbine/hydropower
Deep cycle batteries
Woodstove – heating and cooking
Canning supplies
Seeds
Garden tools
Pressure cooker 21 qt.
Source of water / rain catchment system
Candles
Matches/lighters
Fire extinguisher 5 lb.
Hunting weapon and ammo
Fishing supplies
Salt 100 lbs. +
Misc. medical supplies w/antibiotics
Mountain bike
Tube type radio – DC power

Level Six – This level would be the result of severe space weather or earth changes that cause catastrophic damage to electrical components worldwide. The damage to electrical equipment would be complete making recovery of technology a long and difficult process. With technology destroyed, sustainable systems from the past would have to be revived to provide the necessities of society. This is the worst case scenario. Alternative mechanical systems would be needed to rebuild the technology base. Computer chips are the pinnacle of our technology and the production of them requires several layers of technology to produce unlike the casting and assembly of things such as an engine.

Level Six

Wood cookstove
Tools – ax, wood saw, files
Canning supplies
Seeds
Garden tools
Pressure cooker 21 qt.
Source of water / rain catchment system
Water filter
Candles
Matches/lighters/flint
Fire extinguisher 2 – 5 lb.
Hunting weapon and ammo
Fishing supplies
Salt 100 lbs. +
Misc. medical supplies w/antibiotics
Mountain bike w/repair parts
Grain mill
Blacksmithing tools
Spinning wheel
Floor loom
Mechanical clock
Gramophone w/vinyl records
Typewriter w/extra ribbons
Slide rule
Gas appliances – refrigeration, heating, cooking, hot water, lighting
Bio-gas production unit
Steam engine – machine power
Hydro systems – machine power

While this listing is not exhaustive, it provides a window into the various levels a person will encounter over different time spans and situations. Some forethought about your particular living situation will allow you to devise a plan that will allow the least amount of deprivation during the situation you encounter. The time to prepare is before the lights go out. Once it happens it is too late. When this happens, the lack of resources will make your well being entirely dependant on the knowledge you carry. In this instance, knowing what to do if you are caught without resources will allow you to react quickly and decisively in the first few critical hours of an event.

A brief look at the various levels of potential blackout will help you determine what resources are best suited to your particular circumstances. Every plan needs to be tailored to individual needs and expectations. In a level six situation, most of the equipment to repair the technology base will be destroyed so antiquated technology systems will be essential to long term recovery. Since most of this old technology is no longer common knowledge, the storage of this knowledge is necessary outside of the technology systems for later retrieval. This can also be said for any necessary knowledge during short term situations as well.

In November 2003 NASA detected a CME that they later determined to be at the X28+ level. Fortunately this was not directed toward Earth. If it had interacted with Earth we would be living in a very different world today. In 2005 an X17 was recorded and in 2006 an X9 was recorded just to give an idea of how often and extreme these occurrences are. You must decide what level you should prepare for and seek the means to overcome the situation. When you prepare for the worst case scenario, you will be well prepared for almost any contingency and anything less should be easily handled, but that level of preparedness is a personal choice.

Coping with the loss of technology is a personal responsibility that cannot be farmed out to others. When the unexpected happens it is the responsibility of the head of the household to continue to care for their family no matter what situation they find themselves in. It is always good to have outside help when the unexpected happens but to rely solely on others in these circumstances is to put your family at great potential unnecessary risk.

Energy: The Lowest Common Denominator Part II

By: Tom Chatham

 

Energy can be found in many different forms. Our need for energy determines how fast the economy can grow or how much work each of us can do. The world would be much different without the many types of energy available today. If energy becomes scarce in the future, your life may depend on what you know about it.

Human power-

A good man is said to be about equal to 1/10th horsepower. Even that little amount of power can be used to grow food, produce small amounts of electrical power by hand and move loads. It is the smallest unit of power that you want to have available to you. If you are very young or very old that power will be limited and other sources will be needed to make up the difference.

Animal power-

The availability of draft animals can increase your production many times over that of human power. Animals can be used not only to pull loads and plow fields but to provide power for mechanical devices to increase output. The ability to fuel these animals with locally produced foods, many of which are unrefined and unharvested, gives you the self sufficiency required to produce under most circumstances.

Mechanical power-

The ability to convert most energy sources for use provides the means to power mechanical devices to do a multitude of jobs both small and large. Whether it is a waterwheel used to grind grains, a horse to press sorghum, an engine to provide transportation or a tractor to plow a field, most energy sources are converted into mechanical energy for useful work. The more energy available, the more work you can do.

Electrical power-

Electricity is a cornerstone of modern life. Nearly everything we do relies on electricity. Most of the devices we use are just advanced models of the manual devices in use many years ago. Electricity can be produced by generators powered by mechanical devices or from chemical reactions. It can be used as it is produced or stored in various ways for later use.

Thermal power-

The ability to convert heat energy into other forms is one of the first ways man learned to harness power. Steam engines to power machines, steam to heat buildings and cook food and the burning of solid materials to alter molecular structures of resources are just some of the ways we use heat to provide the materials we need and to accomplish work. With a thermoelectric generator you can convert heat directly into electricity similar to how a solar cell produces electricity.

Liquid fuels-

The ability to convert solid energy into liquid products that concentrate the energy and make it more useful has been beneficial to the human race. Petroleum, alcohol, LPG, animal fats, and other plant based fuels provide us with an energy source that is highly mobile and easily utilized.

Solid fuels-

Solid fuel sources almost all started as something else before achieving a solid state. Wood, coal and animal dung are some of the sources of energy we rely on for everyday use around the world. Most solid energy sources rely on a combination of hydrogen and carbon content to provide the energy they emit. At the most basic level, solid fuels are the most readily available energy source for individuals. There are very few energy systems that we use that wood and coal cannot provide the power for. They can be converted into a gas by burning to be used in internal combustion engines or burned to provide heat for other processes.

Gas fuels-

The use of combustible gasses as a source of energy is more difficult and requires special equipment to be useful. It can be derived from a multitude of sources which makes it a good energy source. It can be extracted from gas deposits in the ground or produced by the decay or burning of plant material. The production of wood gas and methane from animal waste products is a process within the capabilities of the individual.

Diesel power plants for closed loop operation in an underground base was studied for practicality. The system would utilize sodium hydroxide for disposal of carbon dioxide in the exhaust gas, liquid oxygen for the combustion of the fuel in the engines and fuel oil stored in tanks to power the engines. Fuel cells and nuclear power were deemed more cost effective in the end.

Chemical power-

The ability of some chemicals to emit energy when combined in certain combinations is useful in some applications. A simple storage battery allows the storing of electrical power in chemical form. A fuel cell can combine hydrogen and oxygen or other combinations to produce usable power. Water can be electrolyzed to break it into these two gasses for storage.

An interesting note on chemical power is a system the government developed for powering underground bases. Boeing determined that iron-chlorine fuel cells would be the most efficient. This power scheme utilized underground tanks filled with liquid chlorine that was combined with hydrogen to form hydrochloric acid (HCL). This reaction created electricity in the fuel cells. The HCL is then pumped into tanks filled with small iron balls. This reaction results in ferrous chloride and hydrogen gas which is pumped back to the fuel cell to be combined with liquid chlorine starting the cycle over. It was determined that this was the most cost effective method up to four years use while liquid metal cooled nuclear reactors would be more cost effective for longer periods.

Natural power sources-

Some of the available energy sources we have to draw on do no fit neatly into other categories. Sunlight to produce electricity, wind to turn a generator, flowing water to turn a shaft and nuclear energy all provide energy we can harness with special equipment. Many types of natural forces exist that have the potential to provide energy. We are only now starting to unlock some of the secrets of this little known world. Men like Tesla are thought to have discovered some of these secrets only to have them lost to time.

In many ways, most of the energy sources we depend on today can be traced back to the sun itself. Solar energy causes the earth to heat and cool causing wind. It enables plants to grow which can produce gasses when they decay or in some cases store energy while living that can be used like the wood in trees. Plant life can lead to sources of stored energy like coal and petroleum. The heating of the planet causes evaporation which leads to rain that flows downhill providing a source of water power. With some simple materials the heat of the sun can be harnessed for power and the light itself can be converted into electrical power. The sun is the ultimate expression of energy and the many forms it can take that can be harnessed for human use.

Some of the easiest energy sources for the individual to tap into are:

Sunlight-

The primary use for sunlight is to grow things. Photosynthesis makes the world we know possible. Sunlight can be harnessed to produce electricity directly utilizing solar cells or with panels to trap the heat for multiple uses. The heat can be used to produce steam, heat food or power absorption type refrigeration units. Passive and active systems can also be used to heat homes.

Wind-

Wind can be harnessed to propel a ship or turn a windmill. With a windmill you can turn a shaft to do mechanical work like grind grain, turn a generator or pump water.

Water-

Water flowing from a high place to lower levels can be harnessed to turn a shaft to do mechanical work much as a windmill can. With a stored body of water, you can control when you use it and how much work you do. In some regards, it is much like a storage battery.

Solid fuels-

Fuel sources like wood or coal can be burned to power many types of devices. They can be burned to produce heat or turned into a gas to be used in gas appliances or internal combustion engines. In the 1800’s prior to electricity, town gas was used to power stoves, heaters and gas lamps. The town gas was produced by burning coal.

Gasses-

A gas burns more efficiently than a solid or a liquid because it can mix more thoroughly with air to achieve more complete combustion. Propane and natural gas are the most utilized types of gas in use today. Unless you have a natural gas well in your yard, it would be difficult to get one of these gasses if supplies were cut off for some reason. A gas made from wood or coal may be adaptable for modern appliances with some experimentation. Methane made from animal waste is a viable alternative if a sufficient supply exists. By storing this waste in an enclosed container with some water and other organic material, bacteria will release the methane from the waste and provide a usable gas. In some third world countries this gas is used to power stoves for cooking. In the U.S. some large livestock operations such as dairy farms, use this gas for producing electricity. With wood or coal gas a person can power engines such as generators or vehicles.

Liquid fuels-

The most common liquid fuels used today are derived from petroleum. Petroleum fuels are derived from complex distillation techniques that result in products with dozens or even hundreds of different chemicals in them. It would be difficult for the average person to effectively refine petroleum from crude oil. It is possible to reprocess some petroleum products individually. One fuel a person can make is black diesel. It is made from used motor oil and can be used to power older diesel engines. Some newer engines have sensors that monitor the fuel and the dark fuel prevents them from registering properly so it may not work on them properly. Diesel can also be made from plant based oils such as those used in cooking.

Another liquid fuel an individual can produce is alcohol. Alcohol can be made from many different plants. Some plants produce more than others. One of the most widely used plants is corn. A professional distillery can extract about 2.5 gallons of alcohol from a bushel of corn. One of the misconceptions is that fuels for internal combustion engines must be liquid. While this is the current method it is very inefficient. In the 1930’s a man succeeded in improving the gas mileage of cars. He developed a system of fully vaporizing gasoline and cooling it sufficiently before entering the engine. His system resulted in consistent results of over 200 mpg. This is the root of all of the stories about a 100 mpg carburetor. Unfortunately when the results of his tests became known the system quickly disappeared and the experiment has never been repeated. The problem with vaporizing modern gasoline is that it contains so many different chemicals. It would need to be heated to over 400 degrees to fully vaporize.

Alcohol is a much better candidate for a vapor system. Since alcohol is a single chemical, it will vaporize at 180 degrees. This is within the normal operating temperature of a vehicle. When vaporized, the energy content of a gallon of alcohol should theoretically give you around 90 mpg. Just something to think about in the future.

No matter where you are, if you look around you will likely see several types of energy you can use if you are ever thrown back on your own resources. Most people see these things every day and never give them a second thought. When planning for the future, whatever your plans are, it is necessary to give some thought to energy sources, how they affect you and how you plan to utilize them. Whether it is food to live, fuel to cook, heat and provide transportation or light to see, you will require energy in many different ways even for a relatively simple lifestyle. The knowledge you can gain now is relatively cheap but will have incomprehensible value to you in the future whatever you may do.

Off Grid/Grid Down Power Systems: Part I

By: Tom Chatham

Whether you are thinking about moving off the grid or are concerned about a grid down scenario, the need for power production equipment can lead you in many directions depending on what you need. Many of the modern day conveniences we take for granted can be eliminated without causing serious deprivation but some things are beneficial to your standard of living. The need for refrigeration, water pumping and lighting are among those things that make life much easier if they can be done at the flick of a switch. While even these things can be performed with non-electric means with the proper planning, they free up time and energy for other things.

When planning for off grid/grid down operations you need to consider what your absolute needs are. While you may need power under both of these situations, the systems will have some subtle differences. The major difference will be the duration of grid down time. A short duration will require much less energy production capability in the form of liquid fuel storage.

For a short duration power failure you may only need alternative power for a few days. This will require less fuel reserves and less equipment overall. While a plan to deal with a long term power situation will work for short term situations the opposite is not true. A more robust and self sustaining system is needed for long term use. There are certain components you need to consider when building an energy system.

Energy source
Power production equipment
Energy storage
Power conditioning/conversion devices
Power usage devices

In a short term power situation you may opt to rely on a generator as many do. The generator will need a fuel supply that you must have on hand. The loss of power will prevent the purchase of fuel locally so this must be taken into account when this type of plan is devised. With a generator there are five negative aspects that must be taken into account. The generator must be used in a well ventilated place which opens up the possibility of it being stolen. A generator is noisy which will advertise the fact to your neighbors that you have resources they may not. A generator needs a constant supply of fuel that must be stored on site and last throughout the situation. A generator will only provide power while it is running. A generator has many electrical components that can fail at any time and prevent power production such as the coil, spark plug or control panel.

For a temporary power disruption these things might not present a problem but under prolonged disruptions, it could cause serious friction within your neighborhood unless you live in a remote location. The longer your neighbors have to live without power the more they may come to resent you for being prepared. It is for these reasons that alternate methods may serve you better.

With an engine of some sort to produce electrical power you will need a fuel source which could become a weak link in your plan over time. Unless you have the ability to produce the fuel you need, you may want to develop other options for prolonged use. The use of solar and wind present viable options for long term use while eliminating the need to store a fuel source. These systems can be the foundation of a multi platform production capability. The use of a power driven generator can provide good backup capability for this type of system, reducing the fuel needs of this type of device.

With a power generator there are six viable options for fuel. You can use gasoline, diesel, propane, natural gas, alcohol or wood gas. The use of natural gas and alcohol fuels are options but are not as readily available in many locations. Gasoline and diesel will require a large tank and the addition of fuel stabilizer for long term storage. Propane will store indefinitely but will also require a large supply on site. Wood gas can be used and the wood fuel produced from locally available sources. For long term viability, wood gas or alcohol would be the best options for local fuel production. Bio diesel produced from soybeans is also an option for self sufficiency. Information on alcohol and bio diesel production can be found in Brown’s alcohol motor fuel cookbook.

With a solar or wind system you eliminate many of the negative features of a power generator. These systems are quiet, non polluting, require no stored fuel supply and have minimal parts that can fail making them very durable. These devices charge a battery bank that can supply power even when the devices are not producing any power providing the ability of uninterrupted power for limited uses. With a battery pack you also need a power inverter to convert the 12v DC power into 120v AC power that household appliances can use.

One way to get around the expense of a power generator is to build your own. If you are using a battery pack for energy storage it may be more efficient to use a homemade generator to charge it. By combining a 3 hp motor with a car alternator, you can produce 12v power and charge your batteries. Depending on how much power you require you may be able to run your motor just 2 or 3 hours a day and have uninterrupted power around the clock. This could make the necessity of storing fuel much easier.

Where you might need 5 to 8 gallons of fuel a day for a typical generator, a homemade unit charging a battery pack may only consume ½ gallon a day. A typical alternator produces around 1,000 watts of power so producing and storing 2 or 3 KWH of power in a few hours is possible. A large deep cycle battery can hold about 1 KWH of power. A typical refrigerator/freezer or small deep freezer will use about 1.1 to 1.3 KWH of power a day so an hour and a half of run time can power your freezer for 24 hrs. The advantages of this type of system quickly become apparent. Even if you only have the homemade generator, inverter and several batteries, you could have continuous power for almost 2 weeks on the fuel needed by a conventional generator in one day.

Follow

Get every new post delivered to your Inbox.

Join 50 other followers