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How to Avoid Fragility and Failure

Sandy knocked out power for 8.5 million people, mostly in New York and New Jersey.

Wow.

What’s worse?

A week later, nearly a million people were still without power.

Now, a Nor’easter — a freezing cold version of a tropical storm that plagues New England during the Winter — just dropped nearly a record amount of snow on these same people.

NOTE:  Again.  Any time you hear “record-breaking” in relation to Finance and Weather, it usually isn’t good news.  When you hear it all the time, like we have recently, it’s usually a sign that something is very wrong.

That’s scary.

Of course, it doesn’t have to be this difficult.

A home and community that is resilient can bounce back from a regional disaster like this in seconds, if not hours.

For example, my home and the homes of other people reading this letter right now didn’t suffer an outage when the power went down.

We produced our own power.

Enough for us to serve as islands of resilience for our neighbors that didn’t have this capability.  To help them stay warm, recharge cell phones, take a hot shower, etc….

How?

In my home, we produced power with a generator that’s connected to our natural gas line.  Since it’s connected, it could run for weeks, generating enough power for the entire home indefinitely.

Why natural gas?  Natural gas pipelines are buried.  Therefore, they are much less likely to suffer interruption from storms like Sandy.

Natural gas is also inexpensive.  This means we can produce our power for a price close to what we pay for grid power.

______________

Steve, a member of Resilient Strategies, ran his continuously for nearly a week after Sandy cut his home off from the grid.  He thought this was important to point out:

  • Generators can be noisy, particularly when running continuously.  So, put some thinking into where you put it.
  • Make sure you change the oil and filter if you are running it continuously
  • Even if you order one today, it’s probably going to take a year to get one delivered (particularly due to Sandy).

______________

While its great to have a resilient home, it’s even better to have a resilient community.  A community that runs a microgrid can operate as an island when the regional or national grid breaks down.

Here’s a depiction of a microgrid on a military base:

Princeton (a University in New Jersey) and New York University run microgrids and generate their own power.

When the power went down due to Sandy, they were able to “disconnect” themselves from the damaged grid.  This allowed them to send the power they were producing to the buildings, including a hospital, on the micogrid.

Here’s an example of the difference it makes from the daily Princetonian:

While undergraduate students enjoyed guaranteed food and warm shelter and only experienced a brief five-minute power outage, the town still copes with general power outages, closed roads and gas supply shortages all while temperatures drop significantly.

With a microgrid in place, the excess power produced by homeowners on the grid with generators, combined heat and power systems, and solar panels would be able to combine their production to enable the power to remain on throughout a general outage (and compensate people based on their contribution). It would also allow homeowners that had battery back-up systems to soak up extra power during peak production periods.

Unfortunately, we aren’t going to see microgrids in our future unless we push our communities to install them.

That won’t be easy.  The companies that currently operate the grid in the US, have been granted monopolies and guaranteed profits from the government.  As a result, these companies will fight any community that attempts to modernize its electrical infrastructure.

What does this all mean?  

The goal is that when the national grid goes down due to a storm like Sandy, we don’t see signs of fragility like this in OUR community:

Simply, if a community puts up a sign like this, it means it was fragile and NOT resilient.

Why?  It means that people in the community have abandoned their homes and that many are cold, hungry, and scared.

This doesn’t mean that self-defense isn’t an option.

It means that if the community has screwed up so much that threatening violence becomes its only option, it has failed.

In contrast, a resilient community recovers quickly.  It’s also able to extend support to neighboring communities that aren’t so resilient.  It has options that allows it to bounce back.

 

Keep fighting the good fight.

Resiliently Yours,

 

JOHN ROBB

 

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  • Occupy has been providing relief efforts where FEMA has failed
    …and attracting NYPD and the National Guard to their meetings…

    OWS debt buy back is gaining attention quickly – http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=1Qs9w1XlJKE
    Fund raiser for the 15th features some great musicians – already sold out of course…
    http://www.lepoissonrouge.com/lpr_events/peoples-bailout/

    seems to be more popular response than shooting looters and throwing them in the river…

  • Jimmy Smith

    “Why natural gas? Natural gas pipelines are buried. Therefore, they are much less likely to suffer interruption from storms like Sandy.”

    Is it standard practice for gas companies to have Nat Gas generators powering the pump that provide gas pressure? Do these pumps rely on grid power?

    • John Robb

      Yes. The stations on the main trunk line typically run by natural gas turbine that turns a compressor. The domestic loop is a step down from the trunk pressure. JR

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