How to Prepare for Lengthy Power Outage

Many if not most of us have experienced a power outage of a couple of days—maybe from a wind or ice storm if you are from the northern parts of the country, or, a tornado or hurricane if you’re from the Midwest or South. For some, it might have even been fun to cook dinner on the woodstove in the family room, or over an open fire in the backyard. Maybe you enjoyed playing games as a family by candlelight.

But what if a power outage were to last longer—much longer—than just a couple of days? At what point would it cease being “fun.” More importantly, how long could you and your family (comfortably) survive?
In such circumstances, you will want to have a generator.
With increasing power loads on an aging power grid in the US, uninterrupted power may no longer be the norm. Just this past summer, California was experiencing rolling “brownouts” (temporary reductions or restrictions of available power). Federal agencies have warned of possible intentional acts of violence against power stations around the country, highlighting one that occurred just recently in North Carolina.

It is not outside the realm of possibility that we may, perhaps sooner than later, encounter a long-term power outage in our own community.

What Kind of Generator Do You Need?
COMFORT generators are generally larger stationary generators (15-30 kw) with automatic transfer panels that will run the complete house. Many have auto start features, ensuring the homeowner has to do nothing for uninterrupted power.

The downside to these is they entail a high level of complication and can be difficult to troubleshoot or override if they malfunction. Plus, it would not be practical to store enough fuel for a multi-week outage. For example, a 20kw generator running off a 500-gallon propane tank will go five to six days. At $4.49 per gallon for gas; that over six days will cost $2,245.00. Not practical for long term use!

STRATEGIC generators are a holistic combination of minimal generator, fuel storage, and maximizing the power potential from your fuel. The first step in this option is to eliminate large electrical loads by using alternative fuels for heating and cooking. Wood is the most sustainable; propane, kerosene, wood pellet, etc. will also work. If you plan it right, you can maintain your refrigerator and freezer and recharge all your battery devices with two hours of generator run time per day or less.

Your plan for a long-term power outage should include fuel storage, treatment, rotation, and knowing how to replenish your generator fuel during a long outage. When running your generator, try to run as many appliances at the same time until you achieve a full-rated load, in order to get the most use from your fuel.

For example, a gas generator at 100% load will burn 0.17 gallons per kw. At 50% load, it will burn 0.23 gallons per kw. The objective is to maximize the energy use from your stored fuel.

Fuels for Your Generator
The type of fuel your generator uses will make a difference in how much energy you can utilize per gallons; available energy can be measured by BTUs per gal. For example, diesel is 137,381 btu/gallon; gasoline is 120,238 btu/gallon; and propane is 91,452 btu/gallon. Diesel has about 1.5 times the btu as propane. Here are the options:

NATURAL GAS  Any recourse that is delivered to your house via pipe or wire should not be considered in your emergency plan.

PROPANE  The upside to propane is that it has a long storage life. The downside is that the btu/gallon is lower; it takes more fuel to produce the same work as gas or diesel. If you have a stationary tank, remember that, during most disasters, delivery trucks won’t be available.

SOLAR  This form of energy can be great when incorporated in a solar/petro hybrid system. As a stand-alone system for emergency back-up power, it can be cost prohibitive compared to an internal combustion generator.
DIESEL fuel has the most BTUs per gallon and a longer storage life. Diesel engines have a longer life span and better fuel economy than gas engines. The downside is availability; not all gas stations sell diesel. There is a shortage of small diesel generators on the market, and they are more expensive.

GASOLINE offers moderate BTUs per gallon. Stored fuel can be cycled through most automobiles to freshen the supply. The downside is its short shelf life. Additionally, it is very flammable must be stored in well-ventilated areas well away from flames.

This has been a 30,000-foot overview to provide a general idea of the kind of energy generators can provide. In a future article we will discuss:
  • Generator sizing
  • Generator hook-up
  • Fuel treatment and storage
  • Hybrid solar-petro system
  • Alternative heat and cooking

In the meantime, hopefully this has raised your awareness and provoked some thought along the lines of, What WILL our household do in the event of a long-term power outage???
Encouragement from Scripture
It’s not much of a stretch to remember the story Jesus told of the 10 women who were waiting for the bridegroom to arrive at a wedding. Five of them had oil for their lamps (they were the preppers!); five failed to plan in advance and had to go off in search of more fuel at the last minute—and missed the arrival.

While there are significant spiritual implications to this parable, there are also some practical principles we can apply to our own disaster readiness efforts.  Jesus commended the women who planned ahead and were ready! We do well to take this lesson to heart (see Matthew 25:1-13).

HF Preparedness Leadership Team

Action Steps:
I have assessed our home and determined what kind of generator we might best utilize, and how to fuel it.
(If you already own a generator) I have started up my generator recently and practiced with it to make sure it is in working order.
I have adequate fuel on hand to power my generator in the event of a longer-term power outage.

In the News:
Federal law enforcement warned of attacks on power plants:
Washington Power Substations Hit in Recent Attacks
The FBI is investigating a handful of recent attacks on power infrastructure in Washington and Oregon: