Losing Power

kwatt, kilowat, kWSaturday we lost power all day. It’s par for the course on Bainbridge where a light breeze or, in this case, a dusting of snow can render most or all of the island powerless. To be fair, temperatures had plummeted to a rarely seen 27 degrees. Frozen, our tall, regal pine trees shed their weak, damaged or dead branches taking down power lines, starting fires and impaling roofs.

Modern life depends heavily on electricity – maybe to the point of vulnerability? That realization really hit home Saturday. Maybe it’s because I had hoped to get a lot done, or maybe I just had a lot of time to think about it.

In either case, we’re lucky, we have a wood stove, plenty of dry firewood (hand-split by my husband) and a propane stove as well as a small generator (runs on gas), which is pressed into service when the food in the refrigerator is at risk. The power goes out so often that we easily slip into camping mode and reach for our headlamps on our bedside tables and light candles in the kitchen if it’s dark.

On Saturday, my husband left to go deer hunting (opening day) – he was excited as tracking deer in the snow makes his job easier. I stayed home and started a fire in the wood stove. Although I felt a twinge of guilt for creating localized air pollution, I was grateful for the wonderful warmth and looking forward to a day of reading.

Without electricity, what was harder or impossible to do?

  • Drive my car. The garage door is electric. There is a manual override but I would need to break into the locked garage to use it.
  • Clean the house. Sure I could dust or mop but vacuuming was out of the question. And, even dusting or mopping without lights on a dark winter day seems almost pointless.
  • Run the dishwasher full of last night’s stinky dishes.
  • Turn the lights on – obvious, but real.
  • Do laundry.
  • Use any room in the house. If I wanted to stay warm I had to stay in the living room near the wood stove.
  • Get work done online. No bill paying, responding to emails, doing research, entertainment. The internet was down.
  • Watch TV.
  • Talk to friends unless the cellphone is fully charged and there are backup batteries. We got rid of our land line telephone years ago and just use our cellphones, so their battery power needs to be conserved. (We have gotten backup batteries and a solar panel, but still, cellphones are our connection to the outside world and help if we need it.)
  • Baking. The idea of reading and warm cookies crossed my mind but no baking without electricity. Although, I guess if you’re really handy you could warm something on the wood stove.
  • Read ebooks, unless the reader/device is fully charged.

So, not only is our convenient, modern livestyle dependent in a very real way on electricity but also on batteries to store and discharge electricity.

Without electricity, I walked my dog and then settled in for some old-fashioned book reading by the fire. Nice for one day, but what if we had to live without electricity? Or limited electricity? Or, what about national security if the grid goes down? Eek. Large grids are starting to look like a liability.

Distributed power. That’s what I’m thinking. Micro-grids.

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