Hurricane Wilma in 2005 resulted in the largest disruption to electrical service ever experienced in Florida. Florida Power and Light, the largest electricity utility in the state, reported more than 3,241,000 customers lost power during that event. After Hurricane Isabel in 2003, around 6 million customers lost power from North Carolina to New England. Many of these power outages in both Wilma and Isabel were in areas that did not receive sustained hurricane force winds. Given that power outages often occur in strong tropical storms and hurricanes, it would be wise to plan accordingly. There are a variety of options on the market for backup power.
Permanent standby generators for your home typically run on either natural gas or propane (LP) gas and kick in automatically when the power goes out. These systems can provide power to all or part of your house. Prices have come down, but with costs in the thousands of dollars, they are still out of reach for the majority of people.
Portable generators that run on gasoline can power several household appliances. You need to decide which appliances you can’t live without. That will vary for different people, but most folks would like at least enough power for some lamps, a fan and a few small appliances. Some will want to run a computer and perhaps a small air conditioner or a small refrigerator. If you don’t want to be disappointed, be sure you have an idea of what can be supported before buying a generator. And remember that improperly running a generator can result in loss of life from carbon monoxide poisoning. It is extremely important that the generator not be run inside the house or even close enough to the house that the colorless and odorless carbon monoxide gas can seep into the house. I highly recommend a carbon monoxide monitor if you run a gas-powered generator. Gas powered generators usually can’t be used in a high-rise condominium because there is no good way to prevent the possibility of carbon monoxide coming inside.
I have recently purchased a small, 400-watt portable battery backup power system. I plan on recharging the unit at work where we have a backup generator. I’ll then take it home and use it to run a fluorescent light when needed and maybe a fan. It will also run my laptop, can recharge my cell phone, and can be easily used for power tools. My 400-watt unit is relatively inexpensive and is small enough for me to carry from place to place. Unfortunately, the small size means it can’t do too much. Larger units can be purchased which can power more things.
One of the most exciting advances in power generation that I have seen is in the area of solar powered generators. Some of these devices are relatively lightweight, rugged and portable, and are designed to produce useable power. I’m told that the military is currently one of the biggest customers for these systems. In my opinion, solar powered generators will be the way to go for homeowners in the not too distant future, once a consumer level version is developed that is truly cost effective. And the solar powered generators could be used throughout the year as well, not just after hurricanes.