Power Outage

Just before Tropical Storm Isaias rolled through, my hygrometer reached a new high:

Pre-Isaias humidity
Pre-Isaias humidity

The National Weather Service reported 99% at the airport a few miles away, so the meter’s calibration seems about right.

Shortly thereafter, the humidity dropped to the mid-70s as the wind picked up and, over the next few hours, falling branches took out vast swaths of Central Hudson’s electrical infrastructure. My little generator saved our refrigerator & freezer during 15 hours of outage; three days later, thousands of folks around us still have no power.

A confluence of other events, none nearly so dramatic, will throttle my posting over the next two weeks.

We’re OK and hope you’re OK, too …

17 thoughts on “Power Outage

  1. We had a thunderstorm complex last week, and a couple of days later some of the equipment on the 110kV regional line failed. It only took a couple of hours to fix, so I didn’t have to hook up the solar backup.

    The bad bit was that it was in the middle of doing an rsnapshot run, and I haven’t been using a UPS. As a result, the evening backup has some partially started files (there’s something like three threads of rsync running) that the filesystem doesn’t know what to do with.

    Deleting the bad backup with rm -rf didn’t work; the corrupted files aren’t touchable, though they can be copied, apparently. [wince]

    I moved the offending failed backups to the lost+found directory and kludged one in the right sequence.

    Must admit, I’ve never seen a file that messed up that could not be deleted; it throws an Input/Output error on seeing an rm, and ls -al shows question marks on all the permissions. [sigh]

    Glad you did all right. We’re hot, but haven’t had many catastrophic wildfires.Yet. (The management at Lava Beds National Monument were unavailable for comment.)

    1. Part of the power-loss ritual around here is turning off all the beeping UPS boxes under desks / benches / tables. They don’t last more than ten minutes, at best, just enough for a clean shutdown.

      I probably couldn’t get from full sleep through saving the nightly backup in time, though.

      1. Life is just too interesting at times.

        I finally checked the web, and a similar situation was tackled and written up in Linux Questions. That guy was using NTFS, so Windows chkdsk did the job for him.

        I did this drive as ext2, but e2fsck complained of a bad default superblock. fsck is plugging away at it. Curiously, the monthly safety backup (different drive) is ext4. So much for consistency.

        Our border collie considers UPS beeping to be a sign of the apocalypse, so the last time the batteries failed, I didn’t re-install it. I need to check power consumption; not sure the UPS has enough capacity for how I had things plugged in.

  2. WSW of Boston, we lucked out. A little wind. Not much rain. (Could have used it.)

    Regarding backup power, while our 13.5 kW PV is BTM, it is subject to Massachusetts safety rules and shunts off when grid goes down. Alas. Thought about getting batteries and using as backup, but then, as I understand it, we lose net metering and that’s not a financial win.

    We do have an 18 kW emergency propane backup generator though. I also learned our power gets interrupted often enough that it’s worth it to me to have a UPS which is a honkin’ big lead acid battery (suitably packaged for safety) which keeps my workstation running no matter. I run long calculations so I don’t want them interrupted at the 21st hour.

    The backup generator can’t do the house, e.g., our air source heat pumps, but it can do the fridge, a small stove, and all the electrical circuits with computers and NAS.

    The only step I skipped this tropical storm, taking a chance, was I did not test my gasoline powered water pump. We got that after Hurricane Irene flooded our basement. We had a little electrical pump, but it took forever to drain, so invested in the gas pump. Biggest problem is that the gas goes bad and needs to be replaced. Don’t use it often enough. It’s got semi-firm 2.5″ hoses.

    1. If you can find non-oxygenated gasoline (I don’t know East coast, in Oregon it’s at marinas and fuel terminals), that will eliminate most of the bad-gasoline issues. There’s also stuff like Stabil which is supposed to keep ordinary gas from going bad. I’ve had some improvement, but all the small engines on our place use non-oxy.

      FWIW, high test is easier to get than lower octane. My engines don’t need it, but one fuel depot sells both grades.

      1. I looked into getting gas at the airport, but it’s dispensed inside the security barrier (for obvious reasons!) and just not worth the effort.

        So far, Sta-Bil in every can + starting fluid keeps the engines turning over, so I’ve declared victory.

    2. I depend on Sta-Bil to keep various engines happy over the winter, although I confess to firing starting fluid up their snouts as needed. Wakes the dead, it does.

      And Generac Envy is becoming a thing around here!

      1. The marina and the gas station that caters to boats both have non-oxy gas. YMMV. (Illegal to fuel a car newer than 195x with it, though.) I’d be wary of the Generacs that use natural gas; it just seems to shift the fail point from one utility to another. OTOH, a big propane tank…

  3. Addressing a few things in one shot here.

    1) Grid-tie, transfer switch, batteries-vs-grid… just rig you up a big UPS with enough batteries to go for days. Turns out it’s really easy to run a 1500 VA “Back-UPS” UPS on marine deep cycle batteries – forever. It’ll even trickle charge the batteries when commercial power is available. Be aware that it requires 24V DC.

    Initial musing: https://secretundergroundlaboratory.wordpress.com/2017/01/30/silent-generator-power-through-outages-with-a-big-ups/

    “Sourcing” the connector (hint: bypass shears!): https://secretundergroundlaboratory.wordpress.com/2017/01/31/silent-generator-the-molex-ups-power-connector/

    Final assembly (skip the others, go to this 9if you’re curious [grin] ) : https://secretundergroundlaboratory.wordpress.com/2017/03/13/silent-generator-completion/

    Update: de-soldered and removed the piezo beeper from the PC board. “Batteries+” retail stores (at least one locally) will let you cut the Molex connector off of recycled UPS batteries. These things also turn up in the recycled electronics dumpster with amazing regularity. A 60 pound deep cycle battery will give you 800 watts net output for over 10 hours.

    Small engine fuel: oxygenation isn’t the problem, ethanol is. I like ethanol fuel for drying a little water out of old gas, but the problem is that it also absorbs it out of the atmosphere. You know how oil and tomato sauce don’t mix until you Vodka and shake? That’s why Vodka spaghetti sauce is orange, not red. Anyway, when gasoline and water vapor combine they make the same sort of stuff as vodka sauce, and engines don’t like that all.

    Solution: search in google maps for “ethanol free gas”. As long as they use other oxygenating additives (MTBE, commonly), it’s perfectly legal for cars. It’s a no-win situation, though – it’s seriously toxic, likes to become one with the ground water when spilled, smells bad, and causes fairly serious skin irritation. Then again, using it prevents deforestation in the midwest and lowers the price of food for people trying to scrape by, so… bike on!

    1. I like the bigger-battery UPS notion, but the last one I gutted before recycling had big aluminum blocks that were apparently sized to actually sink the MOSFET heat for the expected runtime. The box had no ventilation at all, which is probably a good idea, so they couldn’t use low-mass finned heatsinks.

      Most likely, it’ll run forever from marine batteries at a fraction of the rated load, but I’d bash some holes and a fan into the case just to improve its attitude.

      As far as gasoline goes, Google returns all the usual roadside gas stations in response to “ethanol-free gasoline”, with a few outliers in Canada & the far Western states, and “marine gasoline” doesn’t produce any of the marinas along the Hudson; E0 gas must be outside their comfort zone. Fortunately, Sta-Bil continues to save my bacon …

        1. Now that you mention it, I vaguely recall Dutchess is in a different air quality district (or whatever) and has an entirely different summertime gasoline formula. Might be wrong on any or all of that, but it seems familiar.

    2. I haven’t seen MTBE gasoline in ages. California banned it in the 1990s, in favor of ethanol. It was getting into power-boat reservoirs.

      I’ve been to the Midwest from Oregon a couple of times since the MTBE ban, and have not seen MTBE mentioned on the gas pumps. At least not along the interstates.

      1. A quick read on the ‘webs, and it looks like liability protection offered for ethanol-gasoline is not offered for MTBE-gasoline producers. MTBE is still used in some industrial applications, but it doesn’t look like you’ll find it without much searching.

        I think the bit for us is that oxygenated gasoline is required for road-legal usage in Oregon, but is not for offroad/industrial/boating. Really old cars are also exempt; I’ve had to deal with carburetors that died from ethanol…

        My UPS got frightfully hot in normal service. The heat sinks are not exactly confidence inspiring for longer than a few minutes at power. (2 @ 12V, 7AH gel cell batteries. They usually last 3-5 years.)

        As a side note: transfer switches aren’t required in all backup power applications. My (legal) pumphouse setup uses an interlock bar so I can use solar or mains. Disabling the interlock is illegal. And easy. And the panel is downstream of the master circuit breaker. Only one phase and not a lot of power, but…

        1. You’re right. That’s what happens when I don’t stay on top of things – MTBE isn’t used in the US in any significant quantity anymore. Evidently there’s ETBE and TAME, but they’re use looks pretty limited in the US and is more of EU and Japan thing. Now I want to know what’s in the ethanol-free gas around here.

          My UPS is an APC Back-UPS RS 1500. It’s fan cooled and seems happy to run for several hours at about 500 watts. It’s not a true sine wave at all – it’ll run a 120VAC box fan, but poorly. The motor doesn’t run at full speed and it makes some awful noises. Then again, it’s a fan, under a pop-up tent, at street festivals, craft fairs, and Field Day. People will browse a lot longer just to stand in front of the fan. It will also run a coffee maker (by itself) or a 30″ LCD display.

          Our local street fair event has starting making all the booths with generators congregate down on the far end of the street. You can’t hear yourself think around them. And it tremendously helped the QRM situation up where we were. All the events are cancelled the rest of the year as far as I can tell and to be honest with you, I appreciate the year off.

  4. Ed, for me here in south India power disruptions are a way of life. Every year we have storms with higher than normal winds which uproots trees by the dozen. About 50 trees went down in 275 acres plantation 10 days back. Power sometimes is off for 2-3 days. I have a 3KW UPS with a 230AH 48V battery backed with a matching generator. We dont have any freezers (being vegetarians) but I just keep my 50W beer fridge on the UPS. The batteries last for 5 years, not too bad. Worst case I use a 25KW 3 phase one powers my tube wells for a few hours for drinking water.

    1. We switched to the Town water supply when our well got cranky, giving us the luxury of water even when the power goes out. I suppose if it’s out long enough, over a large enough area, things would get ugly, but so far their backup generators and reserve supply reservoirs have held out well enough.

      Somehow, “higher than normal winds” seems to be the new normal …

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