For the second winter in three years, the state of Texas has faced devastating power grid failures, leaving many in doubt about the reliability of centralized power and what to do in the event such power failures become a regular occurrence.
In 2021, in one of the worst grid failures in modern American history, 4.5 million Texas residents lost electricity, many for several days on end. Simultaneous disruptions to natural gas and water delivery left these powerless families exactly that: powerless. Unable to keep their homes heated, an estimated 250 lost their lives in the ordeal, mostly owing to the freezing temperatures. Tens of thousands more suffered from hypothermia, frost-bite, and other related injuries. During a three day ice storm this last December, 25,000 Texas residents lost power, and the grid was once again on the brink of collapse.
Texas of course is not alone. Recent large scale power outages have afflicted millions of Americans across the country. Whether it’s rolling “brown outs” during the summer months in California, hurricanes devastating the power grid in Florida, or even coordinated attacks on major substations, relying solely on electricity from a centralized grid is an increasingly risky proposition. The question is notif you will face an outage, butwhen and for how long?
Given these new realities, it is vital that homeowners have a plan for what to do when the power goes out. Below, you will find a handy guide for how to budget your energy in the face of an extended outage.
The first and most important step is having a reliable source of backup power. Just like a spare tire is standard on any car, so too backup power should be standard on any home. Backup power can come in a variety of shapes and sizes, from permanent 20kW Standby Generators, to gas powered portables, to more flexible multi-use options like the Apollo 5K. Having a backup power unit will ensure that when the grid goes down, you’ll still be able to cover your basic energy needs.
Once your backup power source is secured, you can start thinking about how best to use that stored energy. The highest priority will be for those appliances that must stay on to keep your family fed and warm. Items like your gas furnace (or an electric blanket), refrigerators and freezers so your food doesn’t spoil, medical devices like a CPAP machine, and perhaps a well pump for those not on a connected water line should always take precedence over items that come further down this list. Some of these items require a large amount of power to stay running, so if you are using a smaller generator and expect the power to be down for a full day or more, carefully consider the use of other appliances.
Assuming those base needs are met, you can next turn your attention to items that use relatively little power but provide utility. For example, the lights in your house. You can reduce your power consumption by sticking with flashlights, even when your generator is running, but if your backup power source is taking continual input via solar, or you are running a very large unit, there is nothing wrong with flicking your lights on. Likewise, TVs, computers, stereos, and small kitchen appliances do not use a lot of energy, so unless you are faced with a multiday outage you can feel comfortable running these in moderation.
Next on the list are items that you should avoid using during an outage. Big appliances like washing machines and dishwashers, for example, can wait until the outage is over. You might want to bake a frozen pizza in your electric powered oven, but if you can cook pasta on your gas powered stovetop instead, that is the better option. And you should never run your air conditioning unit, which can sap your backup power in a matter of hours. In short, avoid using big electric powered equipment when reasonable alternatives are available.
Finally, last on the list are high intensity appliances that might provide creature comforts but may put you at risk of going dark. Coffee makers and microwaves may be fine if your power source can handle the surge, but if you are in doubt, leave those off. Other examples are hairdryers, toaster ovens, slow-cookers, and just about any other plug-in appliance that is designed to get hot. There is almost always a low energy substitute, and though they may lack convenience, the power savings is well worth it.
It’s never fun when the power goes out. But with the right equipment, a basic working knowledge, and a little bit of planning, you can make sure that you and your family are spared the worst of it.