Dealing with power outages

Climate Change: Dealing with Power Outages

With growing frequency and intensity of weather events, power outages are becoming more common. Why do they happen? How long do they typically last? What should we do with perishable food in the refrigerator? How can we prepare for extended power outages? There are lots of questions and the best thing one can do is to prepare in advance.

Power outage during summer heat

On a hot summer day, power went out around 8 PM.  When it happened in the past, power would typically return within several hours.  I expected similar experience and was not worried.  I lived in a small second floor unit in a townhome community in Guadalajara, Mexico.  My house was on a dead-end street.  There was not much else to do without power, so I fell asleep.  But my sleep was interrupted around mid-night when I heard loud music in front of the house.  I decided to check it out.  As I walked down the stairs, I ran into my neighbors living on the first floor.  They were moving food from their refrigerator to the front of the house.  They said, “No hay luz” which meant that there was no power.  I nodded and said that I was aware.  They invited me to join them in front of the house where they had setup a table and were cooking burgers and stuff.  The entire neighborhood was out on the street.  Some had their boom boxes on and were dancing under the moon light.  This was the best way to use up refrigerated food and make it a fun night.  Mexicans have a knack for making the best of what almighty (or the power company) sends our way.  But that is not always the case. 

Fiesta during power outage. Photo by Zac Cain on Unsplash

What causes a power outage?

A temporary spike in electric demand due to excessive use of air-conditioners can cause power outage during a heat wave.  They can also be caused by lightning strikes, accidents resulting in damaged utility poles or utility equipment failure.  Downed trees or other weather-related events complicate diagnosis and recovery.   

What to do during a power outage

First thing to do is to determine if outage is limited to your home/building or is widespread in the area.  If it is limited to your home/building only, you need to contact qualified technicians to diagnose and repair the problem.  In the meantime, you need to turn off all switches and appliances and open windows for ventilation.  Without power, the telephone lines would go down and your water system would stop pumping clean water.  Water is a conductive material, so you should avoid taking a hot shower in case there is rare electrical surge or short circuit.  You should have a flashlight ready to navigate your way during night.  You should discard any perishable food in the refrigerator after four hours of power outage. 

How to prepare for a power outage

There are short-term solutions, long term solutions and emergency preparedness measures.  With respect to short-term solutions, you should stock up on essential items such as low-sodium canned food, snack bars, fruits, breakfast cereals and water.  You should have flashlights ready, keep mobile devices charged up and keep car tanks full of gas.  In terms of long-term solutions, you should find ways to reduce reliance on the power grid by investing in solar or wind-based systems, use off-grid solar systems that can power lighting and mobile devices, reduce energy demand by using energy efficient appliances and invest in passive air conditioning systems.  A back-up generator is also a great idea if fits your budget.

Off-grid solar system. Photo by Caspar Rae on Unsplash

Emergency preparedness

You should have a plan in place before power goes out.  It should include locations of major appliances and home equipment and their shut-down processes, alternative sources for heating/cooling and a list of emergency contacts.  You can entertain yourself during a power outage by playing board games, puzzles, or playing musical instruments.  You can spend time doing creative activities such as drawing, painting, or writing.  Catching up on your exercise routine or yoga is also a great idea.

Can we live without electricity?

Living without electricity is not impossible when you consider that many people in the developing countries have no or limited access to electricity.  Before the dawn of industrialization, everyone lived without electricity.  The intention is not to return to the dark ages but to adapt to sustainable forms of electricity.

Further reading:

Climate Central: Surging Weather-related Power Outages

Ready.Gov:  Power Outages

CDC:  Food Safety for Power Outages

FEMA:  Prepare Yourself for a Power Outage

Key takeaways

  1. Prepare for possible power outage in advance.
  2. Stock up on essential items and keep flashlights ready.  Off grid solar systems and batteries should be available as needed.
  3. Invest in alternative energy systems, passive heating/cooling, and energy efficient appliances.
  4. Research and gather resources to deal with power outages.
  5. Review ideas on dealing with power outages.

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