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5 Smart Ways to Respond To a Blackout




Report your blackout to the power company.  Make sure the 1-800 number of the power company is written down and in a handy place.

What’s the advantage to this?

With many companies, if you report the outage, they will also keep you informed on the progress to return power.  They are usually very good at this (they are able to automate it, so it’s really easy for them to do it).

NOTE:  To take advantage of this, you need to have a traditional handset for your phone.  Traditional handsets run off a trick of power from the telephone line.  I’m continuously surprised how many people don’t know that wireless base stations don’t work during a power outage unless they are plugged into a battery backup system.


Put yourself on your town’s reverse 911 call list.

Many towns now have access to inexpensive systems that let them inexpensively robocall everyone in town with important messages (school is cancelled, etc.).

However, you might not get these messages unless you put yourself on the town’s “to call” list.


Buy and install a backup generator.  There are more than a few ways to do this. Here’s what we did in my home.   We installed 20,000 watt whole house generator.

Here’s what it looks like.  I’d take a picture of mine, but it’s raining pretty hard outside.


Why is this system resilient?

  • It comes on automatically when power is lost.
  • It produces all of the power we need to run the entire house.  We can now produce all of the electricity we use on premises.
  • It produces power continuously, at nearly the same price as we buy it from the electric company, from natural gas (which seldom suffers an outage).  That means we don’t have to refuel it in the storm.

There is one hidden benefit I didn’t include on this list.  Now that we can produce our own power, we’ve become an asset to our community rather than a debit.

Our home is now a refuge for family members and close friends in need of warm bed.  It’s also a benefit to our neighbors.  We can provide hot food or a hot shower when needed.

Over time, as we add more production to our home and community, events like this will fail to have a meaningful impact in anything other than in the most extreme and rare case.

NOTE:  Generators like this are in high demand.  There’s a long, eight month waiting list.   I’m glad we got on the list right after the storms last year.  So, if you want a system like this before next year’s storm season, order it now.

NOTE:  This generator can run on natural gas, propane, and biogas/methane.  It makes my home an energy omnivore.


Live in a town that has a well run municipal power grid.  Experience shows that locally managed grids get back up and running MUCH faster than larger, regional grids.

For example, the August and October blackouts of 2011, lasted nearly a week each.  In contrast, local power companies were able to get back to 100% in a couple of days.

One of the reasons the power outage lasted so long:  the regional power company was being managed to make itself more attractive for buy-out by a larger firm (it’s one of the few ways a management team can get rich in a regulated industry that is guaranteed profits).  To accomplish this, these intrepid managerial “risk takers” cut the tree trimming budget by 30%.  Of course, that proved to be a pretty dumb thing to do.

Local ownership of the power system is also a great way to accelerate the local production of energy.  New “microgrid” systems make it possible for local providers to offer many more features than the regional power company, including micro-markets for local providers. Unfortunately, it’s tough to buy back infrastructure from the big utility companies.  Boulder, CO is trying to do this right now and it has proven to be very difficult.


Hope to have more tomorrow.  The wind is picking up and the power has flickered a couple of times already.

Resiliently Yours,


PS:  If there is a prolonged period of political and economic failure like we are seeing in Greece and Spain, power production will suffer. What will happen?  You will experience a continuous series of brownouts and rolling blackouts as the power company runs out of funds to buy and produce energy.  You’ll also get sudden blackouts as thieves down power lines to steal valuable copper or guerrillas disrupt services.   When that happens, ad hoc grids usually spring up.  They use a rat’s nest of local generators and newly strung wires.  These shoddy systems can get very large (multi-megawatt).  These systems are both dangerous and toxic (fumes).   It’s much better to have a resilient local microgrid in place, run by a municipal power company, before the regional utility companies run into problems.


John Robb

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