It's something we've all become accustomed to. Our lives revolve around it, even though few of us stop to think about what life would be without it in todays modern times.
I was walking through my favourite guy-store today and came across the line of power Inverters. For those not in the know, a power inverter takes 12 Volts DC and converts it to 120 Volts AC - basically, household current.
The advantages? Places where there is no access to AC current (camping, cottage, in your car) you can now have the luxury of such.
Why was I thinking about this? Well, the upcoming trip to Oshkosh will be pretty much devoid of electricity at our campsite, as I understand it.
Is this a big issue in the broad scheme of things? Not really - I'm used to camping without power, and not being able to bring along all the "Creature comforts" of home isn't a huge deal for the duration of the Oshkosh trip. Besides, getting away from all of the technology of everyday life is what camping is about, no?
As long as I can keep my PDA/Cellphone charged, and have a few sets of extra batteries on hand for my digital camera, it's all good. For me, and for the nature of this trip, those two items are necessities.
But, I'm considering getting a new inverter (or a generator) for use outside of camping.
Inverters are pretty common now, with small inverters being available for the $20 to $30 range. I own a 300 Watt version myself, which is compact enough to not be overly bulky, yet powerfull enough to run some light equipment. It will not, however, power larger household items such as appliances - it simply does not output enough power.
It also requires a 12 Volt power source - be it a car, or a battery bank.
I have another "backup power" device in my garage - a Motomaster Powerbox, which is an 'all-in-one' power solution. It too, however, is too small to power large appliances, although it is convenient for camping and travelling. I suspect this little unit will come along for the trip to Oshkosh to at least provide a few days of (albeit limited) 120 Volt power for us to keep our digital cameras and phones charged up.
During the blackout in 2003 that plunged the entire eastern seaboard of the USA and Canada into darkness for a full day (up to 2 or 3 in some areas), our small inverter came to the rescue, powering some essential equipment at my workplace for many hours, and then running flat-out again in the evening here at home to provide us with at least minimal power. While everyone else was sitting in their pitch black houses trying to make their way from room to room, we had our living room lights on, the TV and satellite box up and running to stay on top of the news, and believe it or not, we were surfing the internet for a short while.
Then, we turned it all off, and went outside to mingle with all of the neighbours who were out socializing in the pitch black dark.
It was really a unique situation, as anyone who experienced it could attest to. The sense of community was amazing as everyone mingled out into their backyards, and up and down the street socializing. I met people on my street that I had never met before. And of course, it was amazing to be able to actually see the night sky in all it's glory in the usually light-polluted city.
Anyhow.. back on topic. The inverter did come in extremely usefull regardless of the fact that for the limited number of hours we were in the dark, we could have done without it.
However, when it came to plugging in our fridge or chest freezer, we were out of luck - 300 watts was simply not enough.
Thankfully it was rather moot - our electricity came back on at about the 17 hour point, so we didn't loose anything in either or fridge or freezer. Others were not so lucky.
So, todays trip through the guy-store had me thinking about the luxury that we have all come to appreciate - electricity. I was thinking that perhaps it was time to invest in a larger inverter, or perhaps a small generator.
If the power goes out again, it's less of a problem - plug the inverter into one of the cars in the driveway, run an extension cord to required electical item, and plug it in. For a few hours of outage, it's not worth bothering with backup power, but for a day or more, the losses start to mount, so a backup power source would quickly pay for itself.
Is something as serious as the 2003 blackout likely to happen again? It's difficult to say - the blackout back then was due to the "perfect storm" of failure througout the grid which resulted in a massive failure and shutdown of generating stations everywhere. I was in Pickering Ontario at the exact moment of the failure here in Ontario. Pickering is home to the Pickering A and Pickering B Nuculear generating station - 8 reactors - a massive facility. I was within sight of it when things went dark.
Shortly after the lights went out, the next thing I heard was massive roars from the nuclear facility as they vented steam to the atmosphere. The clouds were amazing to see, although a little concerning - It was the first minutes of what was clearly a major blackout, and then seeing a sight like that from the nuclear facility was a little disconcerting.
The reactors were Scraming due to the completely uncontrolled nature of the grid collapse. It was a real mess, but at least it was safe.
The following days were an adventure as the grid slowly came back online. A nuclear reactor takes up to 48 hours to restart after shutdown, and with the majority of Ontario relying on these nukes, it meant several days of power shortages.
Anyhow, the long and the short of it was that although we had power, we didn't have much of it. Those who didn't conserve (AKA leaving the air conditioners off) threatened to throw the rest of us who *did* back into darkness.
Additionally - with the way that the government of Ontario has bungled our energy policy and failed to think ahead, it's entirely possible that temporary blackouts may become more common. Anyhow who lives here has become accustomed to hearing frequent "Energy Appeals" during the summer months as the grid strains under the load of humming A/C units. At several points last summer Ontario Hydro warned us that we were bordering on system failure due to the loads, and they resorted to voltage reductions (Brownouts, basically) to keep the system up and running.
Sad...and somewhat scary. Our hydro system here in Ontario is extremely fragile right now, and due to the rapid pace of expansion versus the foot-dragging on the energy policy by our government, a crisis is very near.
Having some sort of standby or backup power beyond my tiny little inverter would be nice.
I've noticed a signifigant increase in people with generators or large inverters in their garage since the blackout. "Be prepared" is the story. Most of us still remember the blackout, and it was a wakeup call for everyone, making us all realize that even something as 'routine' as electricity can dissapear.
I didn't jump on the "Buy a generator" bandwagon then, but I'm thinking about it now.
If the power went out this time of year, we would be in serious trouble within a matter of hours - the house would be getting increasingly cold, we'd have no method of cooking or heating, and the pipes would start freezing solid within 24 hours or so, depending on the outside temperature.
In the summer, the lack of A/C is not a huge deal, but loosing hundreds of dollars worth of food in our Fridge/Freezers is a big deal. Shivering in the cold in the winter is a big deal as well.
So, backup power has a year-round appeal.
And it would also lend itself to trips like Oshkosh (or camping) where power isn't immediately available, but would still be handy.
So, I'm looking very seriously at the possibilities...