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When the Power Grid Fails: your alternate energy options

Generating Electricity When The World Goes Dark

In a massive doomsday scenario, it is not a matter of if the power grid will fail, but how soon it will fail. In New York City, without human intervention, it is predicted that within four to six hours there will be scattered blackouts and brownouts in numerous areas, within twelve hours much of the system will be unstable, and within twenty-four hours most of the city will be out.

Most of the world’s electricity is produced from fossil fuels; with no one to manufacture these fuels, or without operator input to control systems, the power generators will stop working—industrial wind turbines included. Though the average nuclear power plant has enough fuel to run for two years, without humans consuming the electricity they produce, the reactors will automatically shut down into a safe mode within a few days. There would be a few power stations that could survive, those that rely on water to generate electricity. However, those hydroelectric plants too would eventually stop working, not due to lack of maintenance of the mechanics, for the generators could run for years without human intervention, but they will fall prey to an evasive species of Eastern European Molluscs. This invader colonizes inside water intake pipes that cool the generators. Once the pipe is blocked it will trigger an automatic shutdown sequence.

In the film The Omega Man, Robert Neville used a gas-powered generator. Detective Thorn used a bicycle and car battery in Soylent Green. And in Mad Max Beyond Thunderdome, it was the diminutive Master who developed a crude methane refinery, fueled by pig excrement, to power Bartertown. So what will you do to generate power to supply your place of refuge with electricity in a post-apocalyptic world overrun by the undead? Below are some choices for your renewable / alternate energy options.

Engine Generators:
Fuel powered generators will not be your best option for the long haul. Whether portable or stationary, they will require a petroleum-derived or vegetable oil- or animal fat-based fuel. Even if you were able to scavenge fuel, within 3 years the fuel supply will go bad even with adding stabilizers and conditioners. Sure if you had the money you could purchase one of those expensive BioPro 190 or FuelMeister II biodiesel processors, which converts organic oils into biodiesel—through acid/base catalyzed chemical reactions—but where are you going to get the organic oils?

For that emergency “backup” system that supplies continuous electrical power, you will want to go with a solar generator. Larger units, while still being portable, can provide up 1800 watts of electricity at peak power depending on the size of the unit. That is enough electricity to keep your refrigerator going while allowing some other simultaneous uses.

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Fixed Solar Systems
Every day, enough solar energy falls on the earth to provide 27-years worth of power for every inhabitant. If you truly want to be prepared, have your bunker, home, or other domicile fitted with a solar powered system with roof-mounted solar panels and a DC/AC inverter. For around $30,000 you can get a system that can supply you with 5760 watts of power.

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Fixed Wind Systems
An alternate to a solar system is the home wind turbine. A 3-kilowatts (kW) remote 80-foot tower system that uses a battery bank for storage should cost around $15,000 (installation not included). However, with advances in technology you no longer need that obtrusive wind turbine tower in your backyard. Rooftop wind turbine systems have become extremely popular; they are even making ones small enough to mount on top of an apartment building roof. Small wind turbines have capacity ratings from 1 to 100 kW and can produce power for a residential home, farm, or a small business—and are significantly cheaper to purchase.

Other Alternatives
If you are lucky enough, or have planned well, and have your refuge by running water, then a micro hydroelectric system is an option. Since power is the product of vertical drop times the weight of the water, output will depend on the drop, (or head), and flow volume available. There are two types of systems; AC direct, no battery storage or DC battery to AC inverter.

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Hydrogen fuel cells are one of the most promising up-and-coming clean power sources today. A fuel cell would be of most use in one of two ways. Adding it to an existing solar, wind or hydropower system for backup power, or using a larger cell as the primary power system. Hydrogen home energy stations can generate eight times more energy per year than the same size solar installation, but come with a hefty price tag. A 5-kilowatt fuel cell system currently is a priced at $56,000, but there are numerous incentives and tax credits that can reduce the price.

Geothermal power (using the earth’s heat) is seen as a virtually untapped alternative energy source because there is so much available to us and can be used to heat your home as well as used for steam turbines. The use of this energy dates back hundreds of years. The Romans used it to heat their baths.

There are other forms of alternative/renewable energy sources, like wave energy systems (harnessing energy from the ocean) but are not practical in a post-apocalyptic world. Whatever your choice of system—be it building it yourself from scratch or a from a kit, or having it delivered and installed—remember: Think smart, shop wisely, stay vigilant, and be safe.