Scarcity of power and water has become a daily topic in the news cycle for Californians. It’s important to know that what happens when the lights go out may not merely require a flashlight and candles for a few hours. There is a massive interconnectedness of our utility systems.
Most all are aware that electricity is provided through an electrical grid somewhere far away from our neighborhoods. Southern California receives it electricity from multiple sources including wind powered generators, hydro-electric and natural gas-powered electric turbine generators, and photo-voltaic cell (solar) systems which are in various places around the state. How electricity is created, stored and transferred gets a bit more complex.
Most large commercial electric power generators rely on natural gas. Gas drives almost 1/3 of the entire US electric generation fleet. Almost all new conventional electricity generation facilities are gas-fired. And, for gas distribution the main compressor stations feeding large interstate pipelines are generally fueled by natural gas-powered engines.
The gas-grid reciprocally relies on electricity. For the gas-grid to function smoothly in residential distribution directly to the consumer, electric powered compressors and pumping stations are maintained throughout the system. If electricity goes out the pressure or a pump station fails, then pressure cannot be adequately maintained to drive the natural gas into the home. Even though the pressure when delivered to the home is about ¼ PSI (pounds per square inch) it still needs to be pressure forced to travel through the pipes.
Pressure may be greater when traveling to multiple homes from 60 psi up to 1,500 psi for large-volume pipelines used to move the gas from the well fields to the local utility transfer station. Municipal commercial sized portable generator back-up systems with some redundancies are also available. There will still be likely failures which require awareness of disaster preparedness planning.
A community electric grid breakdown may occur due to faulty systems, intentional disconnect by the electricity service providers, Government regulatory overload which has created upgrade and renewal gridlock, and natural disasters such as fires, earthquakes, accidents, sabotage, etc.
Water grid infrastructure is a statewide network of storage facilities that depend on capturing rainwater and snow runoff which is placed in holding reservoirs and aquifers. Movement of water relies on dams, thousands of miles of rivers, canals, reservoirs, aqueducts and 100’s of miles of pipes, to move water where it is needed. The system relies on large pumping stations, valves, filtration and treatment equipment. Water, when delivered to your local community is generally stored in giant metal holding facilities on stilts or hilltops. Storing water higher than homes allows gravity down draft pressure creating a temporary solution for retaining adequate water pressure. Without electricity and large water pumps, the large holding facility cannot be refilled. No electricity, no working electric pumps to move water forward.
Water and sewer management also require electrical motors. Since water flows with gravity, lift stations and pumping stations are required. Lift stations are designed for pumping of waste or sewage material to a higher elevation versus pump stations which are designed to raise water to higher elevations. Sump pumps are used to remove water and pump to a higher level of accumulated ground water, away from basements, or to move the water to a higher terrain for runoff. The water is directed or funneled into a catch basin and directed back to the sump pump, which pumps it to the street level, storm drain or a dry well. Some sump pumps are hard-wired into the electrical system and have a battery back-up.
When the electricity goes out in your home what other systems should you expect to be affected?
- The electrical appliances will not function including the catastrophic consequence of not charging your cell phone, iPad, and flat screen TV. We could lose all those delicious frozen TV dinners and Ben & Jerrys Chunky Monkey ice cream in the freezer. What about the garage charging unit for your Tesla electric vehicle, and the neighborhood charging stations? Sorry–get ready to peddle after you pump the tires up on your bicycle using an old-fashioned hand pump!
- Natural gas is supplied through a different system, but the problem remains that the gas will not continuously flow through the lines without pressure pumps and regulators that require electricity. Gas stoves, hot water heaters, toilets, electric dishwashers, electric clothes washers, and forced air heating will not work. Gas appliances including hot water heaters usually have an electric pilot light ignition system.
- Gas stations may be closed because the fueling pumps require electricity.
- If you go to the supermarket, there may be no electricity to run the check-out stand and equipment such as the freezer room. However, many larger retailers have back-up generators that are fueled with propane and can start with a 12-volt battery operated starter.
- If you go to your favorite restaurant, they need all the above services to function. Uber-Eats and Door Dash food delivery services will have the same problem. And Pizza Man will not deliver.
- If you are relying on the truck transportation system to continue delivering goods, they may be unable to get fuel pumped into the truck unless the trucking company has its own stock of fuel and self-sufficient pumping station.
- For those folks who chose to place solar energy cells that generate electricity on their roof, the electricity that was already produced was transferred back through the community electric grid to the utility company to store, with the intent to be resupplied to the property when needed. Sorry, the transfer system from the grid back to the consumer relies on electricity. If the homeowner purchased a large battery pack and inverter, then the homeowner will create, hold and redistribute his own electricity. Few who purchased the solar panel system would not spend the 5 to 10 thousand dollars extra for the battery storage system if they knew the consequences. Home storage units are usually based up on DC current (direct currency flow) rather than AC (alternating currency flow). The DC system will require an inverter to modify the usage from DC to AC, so the current is stepped up to operate your appliances and equipment.
So, what can be done, except blame the politicians that created this mess? The most obvious answer is a home-based back-up generator. There are lots of options depending upon one’s requirements to generate ongoing electricity. However, this is an overview article, not specific about backup generators, which require research by the consumer. There may be a solution depending upon budget, wattage requirements and space. Each consumer can find a portable or permanent standby generator that will do the job. There are even units that operate on multiple fuel sources including natural gas, propane, and gasoline, so if one fuel is not available, you may switch fuel sources as easily as a quick-disconnect coupling change.
While knowledge is power, being prepared for catastrophe in California has become a necessity.
Business and Private Money Finance Consultant
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