Saturday, August 29, 2015

Power out: Reminds me to make sure I'm set for the winter

A gusty windstorm apparently damaged the power distribution system; power has been out since 4am Saturday morning.  At 11pm it's still out, and no word on when it'll come back on - news reports say that at least a hundred thousand households are without power right now.

It's a remind to me that I live in a rural area, and that the power does go out, sometimes for a long time.  A few years ago the neighbors tell me the power was out for 10 days; in the event of a major storm, hurricane or seahawks superbowl win, the power might go out for a longer time.   (In the event of a subduction quake, or a corona mass discharge, it could be out for months...)

So power is on my mind right now.   I actually have two different needs for power; one for the house, and one for the farm.  The farm power backup needs to be 3phase power, the house single phase, and the difference is mostly in cost.   3 phase is more efficient running pumps and heavy equipment -- refrigeration and water pumps being the biggest consumers - but single phase is cheaper to install, and about as efficient when you're talking about normal day-to-day uses.

I installed a 1,000 gallon propane tank a little over a year ago; it's enough capacity that I can run a whole-house generator 24 hours a day for about two weeks.  If I ran the generator 8 hours a day this fuel supply would last about 6 weeks.  Propane is also used to heat the house, and to heat water.  With this large a tank I only have it filled once a year or so.   I chose propane because the fuel stores well and is relatively cheap.  If it sits in the tank for a few years it won't degrade like diesel or gasoline.     I've installed an on-demand water heater to reduce the usage of the fuel, but unless it's a major catastrophe I'm pretty happy with this fuel supply.

I've got a 12,000 watt autostart generator that is propane-fired, and that powers the house.  It's primarily the freezers and heaters and hot-water that this powers; a few hours of operation per day keeps everything frozen solid.  I have a lot of freezers and I'll typically have a half a cow, a pig or two, and a flock of chickens in the freezer at any given time.  Want to make sure that it all remains good.

To power the farm I'm going to need a 3 phase generator, and I've been looking at various options.  For that purpose I'm leaning towards a diesel-fired generator.  Diesel engines, cared for, last a very long time.  And I usually have between 200 and 500 gallons of diesel around the farm, so in a pinch I can operate a diesel generator for several months.  The diesel fuel gets used by the farm equipment, and that keeps it from getting too old.  

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