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Winter storm Uri, in February of 2021, was a real eye opener. Nearly 70 percent of Texans lost their power sometime during that long week, with the average power disruption lasting 42 hours.
Considering how many of those people relied on electricity for heat, that’s tragic. The Texas power grid just couldn’t keep up with the high demand, as they dealt with cascading failures.
Different groups of people are trying to pin the blame for the shortages on different reasons, mostly to go along with their political notions. But in reality, there were many failures, each of which added to the problem and resulted in people being without electrical power.
And now many states, including Texas and California, have publicly declared that they expect to have rolling blackouts this summer, as the power grid managers seek to come up with a way of keeping their entire electrical infrastructure from going down under the increased load of millions of air conditioners running all day long.
The question then becomes, what should we do to prepare before the power goes out?
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Build Your Own Solar Panels
The obvious answer to not having electrical power is to produce your own. For most people, this either means buying solar panels or building your own.
Each panel really doesn’t put out a lot of power, so you actually need a bunch of them to do anything worthwhile. But the good news is that you can make them for about half of what it costs to buy them.
Solar panels are designed to put out 18 volts, so that they can be used to charge 12-volt batteries. Deep-cycle lead-acid batteries are the most commonly used, because of the mixture of cost and their ability to withstand deep cycling. The power from those batteries is then drawn off, through a voltage inverter, to convert it to 120-volts-AC for use.
You can find instructions on how to make a solar panel here:
Solar Hot Water Heater
While you’re working with solar power, you may as well put in solar hot water heating as well. Solar hot water heating relies on the power of the sun, converted to heat, to heat water flowing through the collector.
In the case of most commercial systems, that heated water is stored in a tank on the roof, but in most homemade solar hot water heaters, the water is stored in a tank inside the home, usually another hot water heater. Copper tubing or pipe is used in the collector, as it provides a much better thermal conductivity than other materials.
There are lots of different ways that people make these heaters; but this is a pretty good example:
The sun gives us more capability than that, as we can also use it to cook our food. Solar ovens concentrate the sun’s power, focusing it on the food and therefore raising it up to cooking temperature.
There are actually three types of solar ovens: reflective hot box, parabolic, and Fresnel Lens. The reflective hot box is the simplest, functioning as a slow cooker, while the Fresnel Lens creates the most heat.
To build a reflective hot box, look here:
Here are instructions for making a parabolic solar cooker:
And if you want to make a Fresnel Lens cooker that can melt pennies, check this video out:
Build a Wind Turbine
One of the big problems with solar power is that it only works in the daytime and then, only when there’s not a lot of cloud cover. That’s one of its drawbacks.
But by and large, wind power works well when solar power doesn’t. So, it’s a good idea to make a wind turbine too. They’re actually fairly easy to make; and any DC motor will work as the generator.
Here’s a video where one man shows how he made a very simple one:
Battery Backup System
If you’re going to be producing your own electricity, you’re either going to need some means of storing that electricity or you’re going to have the same problems that power companies do; being dependent on when the sun and wind cooperate. This means a battery backup system, using the deep-cycle batteries I mentioned earlier.
Any battery backup system consists of three basic parts:
- Solar charge controller – essentially a battery charger, which takes the output of the solar panels and wind turbine and uses it to charge the batteries.
- Batteries – which store the electricity.
- Voltage inverter – that boosts the 12-volts-DC power stored in the batteries up to 120-volts-AC for use in your home.
The problem here, as with the solar panels, is that you actually need a lot of batteries. While one battery will store power, the voltage inverter needs to draw 10 times the input from the batteries, as it produces in output. That’s how it increases the voltage 10 times.
Take a look at this video, to see how to install a simple battery backup system:
Cooling with Soda Bottles
It’s actually much easier to heat without electric power, than it is to cool without it. However, an amazingly creative inventor from Bangladesh figured out how to use soda bottles to create a simplified air conditioner that requires no electricity.
This device will cool air by 5 degrees anytime there is wind. You can fit it in the windows of your home to have cooling, even when there’s no power to run the air conditioning.
You can see briefly how this device works here:
Make a Zeer Pot
Modern refrigeration depends on electricity; but there’s a way of cooling food without any electricity. This simple method relies on the cooling power of evaporating water.
While it doesn’t bring the internal temperature down as far as a refrigerator will, it will keep produce fresh for three times as long as it would left out in a bowl.
You can find out how to put a Zeer Pot together here:
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