Could I Get Through An Evening Off the Grid?

From on January 28, 2009 in Electrical

Green WednesdayA day without using plastic has already turned out to be very difficult. What about just one evening off the grid?

Well sure, most of us have been through a power outage or blackout before. Even without food or water, no one is going to lose it in just one evening. But let’s take this a bit more seriously. How we make it through one evening can say a lot about how we’d make it under more dire circumstances.

Let’s assume that I live in the city; no solar panels, no well water, I am sucking all my energy off the grid. But, for just one evening, there is no grid.

Candle on the table

In a word association exercise, “Candles!” is probably what we’d all blurt out when cued Blackout. And yes, I have plenty of candles and a flashlight for any reconnaissance work. So lighting is taken care of for the evening. Beyond that?

Next I’d need to worry about food and water. Currently I have some extra five gallon jugs of water so that is no problem. And I try to keep a good stock of fresh vegetables around (thank you farmer’s market!). I also have a small propane camping stove that could make it through an evening or two.

Heat would be a whole other issue, a big one. Even here in the desert it is currently cloudy, rainy, and pushing closer to freezing temps every night. I have no fireplace, no wood stove—just candles and a typical electric heating system. Not good.

Again, I’m sure I could bundle up and suffer for an evening without any complaint. In fact it would be fun. I come from the Midwest where summer thunderstorms and winter snow and ice storms frequently knock out power, so I’m no stranger to Scrabble under candlelight. But the real question here is what happens after that first evening? How far would my few jugs of water and half a tank of propane get me?

The state of people living in extreme poverty around the world attests to the difficulty of living off the grid. It also brings to light the amount of ease and comfort that many of us take for granted. Such is the saving grace of residential solar power and passive solar design, plus the ever increasing need to conserve energy at every turn. Solar power is already making a difference in the developing world and here in the industrial world we know whose lights would still be shining after a grid failure; and our grid is certainly overtaxed at present.