Finding Power Sources in Emergency Situations

Photo by Luisus Rasilvi

In an emergency situation, access to a reliable power source is incredibly important. We never know when something is going to go wrong, and so we have to be prepared for any situation. Modern generators and power sources come in a variety of different models, and each one has some benefits and drawbacks for different situations.

I began writing this article a while before the terrible earthquake and tsunami struck Japan, and at the time it was simply intended to be a simple discourse on the types of generators and inverters available for those “what if” situations. Now, though, with the massive crisis in Japan, suddenly the effects of natural disasters on us are startlingly real. We don’t like to think about it, but the absolute worst case scenario could happen to us any day, and we should take steps to protect our homes and family.

There are literally millions of people in Japan that don’t have any power right now. I’m not going to make any sort of claim that their own personal power supplies would have been an option because, frankly, they weren’t. I lived in Japan for two years and when you live in an apartment that has a kitchen, a bathroom, and one space that serves as living room and bedroom depending on whether your beds are in the closet or on the floor, there’s not a lot of room to store a personal power source.

Sometimes the situation may be so bad that it is completely beyond our control. However, now I live in the West and we are always being warned of the next earthquake. It would be foolish if we didn’t do everything possible to prepare for unforeseen events.

Portable Generators

A portable generator is usually the most economical way to get temporary power during an outage. They are often much more affordable than the other options on the market, and they are often implemented in many different situations. If you need to take your power source to a new location, this model is your best option, and as long as it can produce over 4,000 Watts it should be able to power most of your household items.

There are a few drawbacks to a portable generator, though. For example, they are not suited for an extended power outage. First of all, they don’t have a very large fuel tank, and you may have to refill it several times throughout the day to keep it running. Second, if there has been a major disaster, chances are the gas stations will be closed or inoperable as well, so you may not have access to more fuel when you need it. Still, there is something to be said for convenience and portability.

Stationary (Standby) Generators

A stationary generator isn’t going anywhere. It stays in place where that it can receive fuel from an external source like a natural gas line. It is easy to use, and easy to maintain, and it will start at the push of a button or, in some cases, automatically when it sense the utility power has cut off or dropped to an unacceptable level.

These generators can run for extended periods, and they can easily power the appliances and emergency devices in your home. If you are going to run it for days at a time, though, you may need to shut it down occasionally to check the engine and change the oil. And if there is no fuel line that your generator can use, it is possible to install a large propane tank that can hold large fuel reserves almost indefinitely (which may even be better in case the city’s fuel line is somehow compromised).

Battery Backups and Renewable Power Sources

Image: Suat Eman /<

Solar and wind power are good alternatives for people who want to start reducing their dependence on power from the utility grid even before something bad happens. These systems can give users access to renewable energy at certain times (when the sun is out or the wind is blowing), but the amount of power they can provide beyond those times is dependent on the size of the battery backup. These systems can only store so much power for so long, and then it will need to be recharged.

When you draw power from the batteries it will be in DC current, which is not compatible with most of the appliances and machines in your home. So if you are relying on any kind of battery backup system you will also need the right inverter and high quality inverter cables to connect them to your appliances or emergency devices.

Maintenance and Preparation

Whatever generator or power source you eventually use, it is extremely important to maintain your system and keep it in top condition. You never know when a disaster could strike, or when you will need access to a power supply. Sometimes you will have some notice, but even that may not be sufficient if you aren’t prepared. After the tsunami struck Japan, for example, a warning went out to the people on the west coast of the United States to prepare for their own possible disaster. It didn’t hit, but even with that warning there wouldn’t have been enough time to completely develop and implement an emergency plan that would take care of all your needs. Not unless you already had access to the proper resources.

Take the time to plan for emergency situations. If you do purchase a generator of some kind always make sure that it has plenty of fuel and that the inverter is dry and in working shape. Regularly check up on your system and perform routine maintenance. The middle of a disaster is the wrong time to learn that there’s a short in one of the wires.

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