Backup Power After a Hurricane

Hurricane Wilma in 2005 caused 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.  In 2003’s Hurricane Isabel, around 6 million customers lost without power from North Carolina to New England.  Many of these power outages 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.  This is the most desirable backup if you can afford it.  Prices have come down, but they are still out of reach for the majority of people with costs in the thousands of dollars. 

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.  People routinely die from carbon monoxide poisoning from improperly running a generator.   It is extremely important that the generator is not run inside the house or even close enough to the house that the colorless and odorless carbon monoxide gas can seep into the house.  A carbon monoxide monitor is essential 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.

Last year, I purchased a 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 lamp with a compact fluorescent light and a fan.  It will also run my laptop and can recharge my cell phone, and can easily be used for power tools.  The 400 watt unit that I purchased is relatively inexpensive and is small enough for me to easily carry it 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.

We are starting to see some pretty interesting solar power solutions exhibited at hurricane conferences.  I’m looking forward to trying one of these systems once the price comes down.  An internet search on ‘portable solar generator’ or ‘solar power’ will reveal some of the current offerings. 

The bottom line is that you need to plan on the possibility of power going out during the next hurricane and have a backup plan for that outage.


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