India In Darkness

The “State run power company” in India is having a little problem. Most of Northern India is in the dark…

Normalcy would take a few more hours, officials said. More than 8,000MW capacity of the country’s largest electricity producer NTPC, spread across six power plants, was hit.

Shinde said, “The fault is not known as yet … somewhere near Agra, a failure has happened. We will inquire (into) that”. However, Delhi power minister Haroon Yusuf blamed neighbouring states for over drawing electricity from the grid.

Services of about 300 trains, including Rajdhani Express, Shatbadi Express and Duronto, were severely affected.

Shinde announced a three-member panel to look into the power failure, the worst since 2002.

The grid failure not only impacted more than one fourth of the country’s population but also several industrial areas and the information technology services in Gurgaon and Noida in the NC

Their stock market has gone up today, so this is more “business as usual” than “catastrophe”.

I first saw this on CNBC where they had film of the streets and a presentation about how loads of folks have their own generators. (They showed an iconic Honda Generator like mine ;-) It would seem that some of the businesses even have banded together to provide their own power via pooling resources and buying larger Diesel generators.

Why mention this?

Couple of reasons.

First off, we have an example of what folks do when the electric grid becomes unstable. They adapt. So as we embrace “the green dream” and the grid goes unstable, expect lots more generator sales and more folks going DIY on power production. ( I’ve already ‘lived that dream’ under Governor Gray (out) Davis; so I already own a Honda generator…)

Second, as “why” is unknown, there is the interesting question of “Surges and solar things? Or just a screw-up?”.

Then there is “600,000,000 people without power? What happens?”. Per that Times of India link, they have about 60% restored at the time of the article; but CNBC was not as positive. So which is it? At any rate, there are a lot of folks pushing the “poor” of India away from kerosene lamps and toward electric lights. Those folks are already prepared for failure and instability in the “advanced” part of the infrastructure. As the computing centers are hit, too, it will be interesting to see how all the “outsourced to India” things handle it. (One presumes they have backup Diesels… but…). For example, many folks use IBM professional services. At a client site I was often interacting with folks in India who did the real work (and with the guy in the USA who put an American face on it). So we get to find out how much backup generator fuel they have ;-)

So that’s where we’re at. Indian Rupee has already taken a steep dive on other economic factors over the last months. (If you recall, I bailed on Indian holdings some time back when they announced some central government controls on investments and repatriation.) Now the power grid has destabilized. (One hopes it was just from a mechanical failure of some sort, but: “Hope is not a strategy. -E.M.Smith”) We get to see how India handles this as it has modernized a bit since the last major outage (but is still more prepared for outages than most western nations). And we get to see how to be prepared for our own “Green Future” as our grid increasingly destabilizes.

Sidebar: Destabilization is not a pejorative or hypothetical. It is an essential consequence of the massive shutdown of coal fired power plants in the USA (and Nuclear in UK) mixed with ever more wind and solar sources that are inherently unreliable / dispatchable. When everyone comes home to turn on the TV, put dinner on the stove early, and watch the Olympics on a Giant Projection TV set, you simply must have power you can ‘dispatch’ on command. That can’t be done with solar or wind. So we are removing our dispatchable power, adding inherently unreliable and non-dispatchable power, and hoping at the problem. The ratio of ‘hot standby’ or dispatchable power to sporadic or unreliable power matters. The less excess dispatchable over sporadic you have, the more likely just such a “glitch” will bring down the whole grid. Add in that these “Green Power” sources are distributed all over the grid, putting in random surges and sags as the wind or clouds shift, and it will eventually hit a crossover point where on some sag the demand exceeds supply and large producers ( nuke, coal, whatever) have to drop their grid connect to avoid damage. Then we get to find out how unstable the REST of the grid has become as that dropout can cascade to other plants groaning under the surprise load. Basically, it is an inherent mathematical property of the grid and dispatch vs non-dispatch power sources. Just an Engineering fact, not a political or emotional thing. Not an imagined thing, a fundamental property of grid connected power generation.

In Conclusion

While not a particularly important event, especially in a “Third World” country. But still time for us to pay attention to our own needs. I, for one, will not become dependent for my transportation on an increasingly expensive and unreliable power source.

Al Jazeera is reporting that now, in day two of the outage, much of the area has had power restored, but many States are still having “issues”… One of the interesting bits: They have a story on the drought in N. India causing more demand for power to run pumps as part of the problem. Also of interest, they are asking “Can the Government fix this?” Given that the Government runs the power grid, that’s a big question…

So I’d suggest folks who are ‘without backup’ electric supply consider some kind of Preparedness Plan for that. It can be as simple as a 200 Watt inverter that plugs into your car cigarette lighter outlet, or it can be a stand alone backup generator, or it can be a box of candles and an outdoor BBQ ( Your car IS a backup generator. Just a self mobile one with a large tank. ;-).

As our governments have started down a path to electricity instability, it is very important to adapt to that.

FWIW, the Amazon search on 200 Watt inverters shows them as being about $22 to $40 or so. So pretty darned cheap. In a power outage it is enough to keep your laptop, cellphone, radio, etc. charged; or to run a small TV set and a CFL or LED light. My version of minimal emergency power lives in my backpack when traveling.

I expect we will be seeing more of these grid collapse events over time, and in more geographies, until folks eventually learn (again…) that political decisions are typically very bad Engineering decisions (and also pretty bad Economic decisions).

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About E.M.Smith

A technical managerial sort interested in things from Stonehenge to computer science. My present "hot buttons' are the mythology of Climate Change and ancient metrology; but things change...
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28 Responses to India In Darkness

  1. BobN says:

    I have been amazed that terrorists have not attacked our grid. There are so many ways to take it down, yet it has not been bothered so far. Once it starts they will have a hard time keeping it up as there are so many points that it can’t be guarded.
    As unstable as it is, they may not have to bother, it will go down on its own.

  2. E.M.Smith says:


    When working a contract at Charles Schwab in San Francisco, two of us would regularly go out to lunch together ( nice sandwich place in the Folgers square and a decent Japanese fast food place nearby, for example). As this was near to 9/11 in time, we would look around as we walked.

    Both being “infrastructure guys”, and both being cleared to work in the security area of the firm, we “would talk” about risks we saw as we went to lunch. We would come up with 1 or 2 major attacks that could be mounted by a group of 1 to 4 people and be catastrophic in outcome most days. I won’t go into what they are ( no sense giving folks a ‘hit here’ list…) but there was just so much that was a trivial hit…

    There was a presentation on data security / reliability I attended (at another company) where the presenter had an interesting photo. (As this was his standard ‘pitch’ it will have been well publicized already, so I think I’m OK with sharing it.) The “set up” was to ask how many of us ( I.T. Director types) had redundant network connections? How many had sites in both N and S California to support? Did we have redundant connections between them?

    Then he specifically asked about VPN over the internet vs leased lines from the Telco.

    Then he showed us a picture of a SINGLE bridge in the middle of nowhere. A train bridge, IIRC. On the side of it was a large cluster of pipes. In them were a LOT of wires and fibers. He then showed a slide with Names and Arrows to the pipes. ALL the major carriers… Turns out that this one train bridge carried most of the traffic between N and S California due to some right of way issues… One train derailment and the wreck would take out the bridge, and the connectivity.

    Yes, he was “pitching” his company and their connectivity that didn’t take that bridge… and this was prior to the huge growth of other connectivity, but it was still only a couple of decades back. Most capacity growth will have been pulling copper out of the pipes and putting in glass fibers…

    The two of us, on our lunch walks, figured we could do between $1 Million and $20 Million of damage per day for weeks to months… some big hits being in the $100 Million+ range; and leveraging ‘other assets’ correctly would be very unlikely to be caught. Yeah, what “White Hats” do… Think ahead of the threats, think how they could do “more”, defend against it before they figure it out…

    Last time I looked, the three major “issues” we figured out were still there. One ‘large asset’ each is all it would take, and nobody could stop it once set in motion, only try to recover after the event.

    What we could do to the power grid is, er, not for publication… but we could destabilize most of California (by population) with one event. Highly unlikely to be caught and certainly not going to be prevented.

    (We had worked together at Apple running a secure Supercomputer site, where part of the job was to imagine how folks could attack and prevent them. With $50 Million or so of physical assets, an untold value of ‘intellectual property’, and a staff of R&D folks who were ‘designing the future’; the potential for one nut case to do huge damage was quite high. The biggest risk was a single wall where a truck could drive up next to it and then take out the whole facility… “upper management” would not let us put in traffic barriers to it. So we had a ‘policy’ fix of meeting any suspicious trucks at the driveway entrance. No, no barrier nor even a speed bump in the driveway. Mostly just “security by obscurity”… They didn’t want to upset the neighbors with an “industrial looking” effect. They wanted a “professional business office look” to the place. So we had to look like a Dentist Office, not a secure site. But we conducted public tours of the Cray facility, so anyone who asked was given the address of the place. Things that drive a guy nuts ;-) I think that’s where I first started the practice of “imagining the worst”. Before that I just imagined the ‘pretty bad’ ;-)

    Oh Well… We couldn’t even get them to buy a skid mounted hammer-mill shredder to feed all the docs and prototypes… even after a ‘dumpster dive’ we did returned strategic information. The corporate security folks didn’t like us treading on their turf, so it was “a bad idea”, even though it would have dramatically improved information security.

    It is just amazing how unconcerned about security “issues” even major companies and cities can be. And the only real saving grace is that the “Black Hats” are incredibly dumb in how they choose targets and the way they value a target.

    So, back on grid issues:

    A generator can be a very cheap ‘buy’ and as power costs rise, may become the lowest cost day to day supply. At the present upper tier power for PG&E, using natural gas and “making your own” is at break even. In a year it will be a bargain. I’m going to be actively looking into natural gas generators in about a year.

  3. adolfogiurfa says:

    Need to establish an Indian branch of the Church of the Sacred Carbon ASAP!

  4. Jason Calley says:

    @ BobN “I have been amazed that terrorists have not attacked our grid.

    @ E.M. “And the only real saving grace is that the “Black Hats” are incredibly dumb in how they choose targets and the way they value a target.”

    Ten years ago, I would have agreed with you both, but today, well, respectfully, no. There is a simpler (though difficult to accept) reason, I think. Consider this: We often invoke the principle that we should not ascribe to purpose, that which can be more simply blamed on stupidity. For the most part, that is right, but then we sometimes run into the cases where, “No, that is not just stupidity. Even stupidity cannot be THAT consistent in what it leads to!” We look at the “adjustments” of the CAGW crowd, and even though some of the warming adjustments could be stupidity, when you have case after case after case with each new adjustment moving invariably in the direction of warming, then at some point you say, “This is not stupidity, this is not accident, this is an agenda.” Some years back I reached that point with ideas of terrorists.

    Yes, the power grid is an obvious target. One guy with minor tools or weapons and an old VW could shut down most of the metropolitan areas in the US, given gas money and a few weeks time. You know that, I know that, anyone with a three digit IQ can figure out a few such plans. Now, add in the fact that the US has had essentially open borders for years. Any terrorists who wanted to could have entered the US long ago. Doesn’t it strike you as odd that ten years into a major war on terror, the US has never attempted to seriously patrol the border? In fact, Bush spoke out against private citizens who watched the border and radioed Border Patrol with info on illegals coming in, calling the citizens “vigilantes!” Does this even make sense?

    Here is what makes sense to me. There are no terrorists — not in any substantial or coordinated way. We have unguarded infrastructure, we have open borders, we have no terrorist strikes, ergo, we have no terrorists. Imagine this; suppose the police – for whatever reason – issued continual warnings about car thieves, but at the same time refused to patrol your neighborhood. Suppose that, on the contrary, they allowed anyone who wanted to wander through. Suppose that you had an unguarded, unlocked Lamborghini parked in your yard. Suppose that every morning the car was still unmolested. Crazy, sure, but what would that tell you about car thieves? Maybe the first week or so you would think “Man, those car thieves are dumb!” Would you still think that after ten years? How long would it take before you asked yourself, “Hmmm… maybe the police are lying about all those warnings of car thieves.”

    There are two major hoaxes going on right now. CAGW, which is designed to snare the liberal kumbaya crowd, and world terrorism, which is designed to snare you – and me, and more conservative thinkers. Very few people agree with me on this, (and I doubt anyone will change after reading this) but what else makes sense?

    As for infrastructure failure, E.M., yes, I expect to see more and more of it fail. It is the expected outcome of a system which is being so bled of its surplus wealth that the investment to maintain the roads and grid was taken away years ago. Things wear out, and we no longer have the general level of wealth to replace them. It has taken 40 years, but the giant wealth creating locomotive of U.S. capitalism has finally had so much sand thrown into its gears that it is grinding to a halt. Like most of you guys, I have a Plan B, as well as a C and D.terrorists.

  5. EM – and another Indian blackout today. When the grid reaches close to capacity, it doesn’t take much to overload one section and set up a chain reaction that takes out large swathes of country. Some of this may be a uniquely Indian problem, in that it is just not done there to tell your boss that what he wants is impossible. The politicians therefore want certain things done, and the engineers say ‘yes, we can do that’ and then fail. It’s OK to fail, but impolite to tell someone first that it can’t work.

    I’ve also looked at security holes where any reasonable engineer could really cock up a lot of things if he/she so wanted. Luckily it seems that engineers nearly always want to make things, not destroy them, so the black hats get the incompetent ones who only think they can cause a problem – most of the time, anyway.

    The grid was a solution to the problem of electricity generating kit being large and requiring expert maintenance, with not enough people trained and competent enough to have more than a few built at a time. Those days are long gone, and mass-produced generators require very little maintenance, so smaller gensets and possibly more intelligent use of the electricity produced should be the way of the future. You can even buy a drop-in nuclear power-station, fuelled for 20 years needing no maintenance in that time.

  6. Jason – interesting point about terrorists. I think that there are some, and that an inordinate amount of effort goes into tracking them. There are also demonstrably crazy drivers around – you may have come up against a few in your lifetime, but the vast majority are good and careful, and it’s not really that often you come up against someone with a deathwish. If there’s a murder, in general the police look at friends and relatives first as suspects, then look for motives (that old Columbo thing) since normally murders are done for a valid reason, strange as that sounds. Yet we also get lunatics who just kill people they’ve never met or interacted with – luckily again only occasionally.

    People who are scared and want to be protected against that will accept more controls (gladly!) more easily. With terrorist threats, who is going to complain about scanners that see through clothes?

    Even a few real terrorists can cause us a major problem, though. One of the main ones is all the extra time and effort put in to thwarting them – resources that are therefore not available to the general population. This drops real living-standards, as well as the hassle of all the precautions that also takes up the time of the normal population.

    You are mostly right, I think. I just can’t see what is gained from “being in power”, that makes such control-systems get used. Being Mayor, governor, President seems like a pretty nasty job to me.

  7. omanuel says:

    The sad part is that society is disintegrating today.

    Addiction, anxiety, confusion, depression, and mental illness are increasing. World leaders do not know how to fix the problem that they helped create. We are all like rats on a sinking ship, and violence will eventually erupt if these underlying issues are not addressed.

  8. boballab says:

    Here is what makes sense to me. There are no terrorists — not in any substantial or coordinated way.

    You haven’t looked at the history of terrorist groups that pull off the biggest attacks very much or you would have noticed a very definite pattern which roughly goes like this:

    1. Group forms and trains
    2. Pulls off small time attacks
    3. With success they plan more attacks slightly bigger
    4. those attacks mostly succeed, but now they are starting to get official attention
    5. Pull off a really big attack and then hammer drops on them

    Example 1: PFLP
    They were the ones known for starting the Highjacking craze and the only group to ever get an EL AL flight. They had 10 armed attacks since their founding in 1967 culminating in their biggest attack, in conjunction with the Japanese Red Army, on the Lod Airport in 1972. After that they carried bullseyes and only did 3 attacks between 1972 and 2000. After that one big score they had to lie low especially after the example below.

    Example 2: Black September
    They are really only known for one thing: The Munich Olympics attack in 1972. However they were formed in 1970 and did multiple attacks up through the Munich attack. Afterwards they did a few more but they were being hunted down and destroyed by the Mossad (This operation is what made Mossad famous). Within 1 year of their greatest triumph Arafat had to disband the group.

    Example 4: Libyan sponsored attacks
    Qaddafi decided in the early eighties after the Iranians got away with the embassy hijacking that state sponsored terrorist attacks against the US was the way to go. They first attacked a disco in Germany that was catered by US military killing many. However when they pulled off their biggest strike, Pan Am 103, Reagan bombed the shit of Libya almost killing Qaddafi. No more terrorist attacks occurred and he even gave up the Pan AM bomber.

    Al Qaeda definitely fits the same pattern: They pulled off multiple successful attacks but never anything truly huge that would get people after them…until 9/11. Once they did that the hammer dropped and they were actively hunted. Eventually another group will form after the US or Israel is no longer focused on them and the pattern will repeat.

  9. Jason Calley says:

    @ Simon Derricutt “Even a few real terrorists can cause us a major problem, though.”

    Yes, on that I agree with you completely — in fact, that is a point that I did not do a good job of making. Even one terrorist with a bus pass and some bungee cord can cause the shut down of multiple cities. (I won’t say how, but it is something that can be done with a very low chance of being caught.) All it really takes is ONE terrorist. And yet… We (or rather, TPTB) have allowed the U.S. to have essentially unguarded borders for decades now, and the most simple, anyone-can-do-it attacks have not happened. There are only a few possible reasons that I have come up with to explain that.
    1) All terrorists, every one, without exception, must be too stupid to see the vulnerabilities of U.S. infrastructure
    2) U.S. counter-terrorist organizations are so good that they can let 10 or 15 or 20 million people and their effects enter the U.S. with no checks or restraints, and yet the organizations STILL manage to maintain a 100% secret and effective system to prevent the simple attacks
    3) The threat of terrorist attacks is enormously, hugely, tremendously overblown

    Maybe there are other good and plausible reasons, but of the three above, I find the last to be by far the most believable.

  10. Jason Calley says:

    @ boballab

    You make some very good points about overseas terrorist attacks, but I do not see anything in your post that really addresses the point I was making. US infrastructure is both very vulnerable and unguarded, and still we have not seen even the sorts of attacks that one or two people could do any given day of the week. The borders have been open for the last 30 years and yet no terrorists have walked across our borders and (for example) shut down the power grid around Denver. Maybe I misunderstood your point, but why is it that not even one terrorist (and that is all it would take) has launched that sort of attack? I am willing to listen.

    By the way, my apologies for drifting so strongly to infrastructure dangers (or lack of it) from terrorists. US roads, bridges, water treatment, and especially power grid systems really are in a deteriorating condition. Any prudent person should be aware of the problems and make efforts to prepare for the possibility of disruptions. I especially like the idea of an inverter in your car. Maybe even two or three deep cycle batteries that will fit in the trunk and can be charged whenever the engine is running, even while travelling.

  11. P.G. Sharrow says:

    The main reason that we have little terrorism is that only local nut cases want to try and they are really stupid. Anyone with any brains has something better to do. Now in other places like the middle east a lot of moderate intelligence people have nothing better to do then join such organizations for income. For the most part Muslim countries are a dismal place to live for those that are not in charge. Being a terrorist pays well. When these people get sent to the US they “go native” as it is easy to do and living in the US is way too much fun to actually carry out attacks. The way the east coast 9-11 team was successful was that they were kept together and away from the locals. The other teams never bothered to show up.

    The truly dangerous people to us here are those that work for the government and “want to help us” by running our

  12. pouncer says:

    Lowes home store was clearance pricing some hand-crank lanterns this week, very deeply discounted. The crank not only lit the LEDs but powered a USB charging port. Handy for cell phones, etc. This was part of a set of “solar” stuff — notably the stuff also always included transformers to charge from the wall and plugs for the 12V car “cig lighter” port, as well as the mentioned crank.

    Even purveyors of solar stuff don’t expect you to rely on solar.

    The ALDIs small food market chain was selling generators earlier, and again I saw them deeply discounted. Reviews indicate the systems are not exactly reliable but if one is checked, tweaked, and fixed as needed before you have to rely on it, it’s quite a low cost insurance policy.

    I don’t expect anybody to go out and pay MSRP list for such stuff but being aware of needs and bargains is as good a strategy for “prepping” as any other shopping.

  13. gallopingcamel says:

    Your comments on the destabilizing effects of systematically replacing coal and nuclear with unreliable power sources should be heeded by those in high places. We all know that our masters are not listening so nothing will change until the leading practitioners of irrational energy policies come unstuck in spectacular fashion.

    I must admit surprise that India could suffer such an embarrassing collapse. I thought that Germany, Japan, Kalifornia, Denmark or the UK would provide the horrible examples needed to convince the rest of us not to gallop over the precipice.

  14. E.M.Smith says:

    @Jason Calley:

    I would like to present a cogent and direct argument for how you are wrong:

    but I don’t have one…


    What I don’t get is: They are already IN power. Someone will be in power anyway, so why not be in power over a growing vibrant society rather than a dismal one in decay?

    Must some some political thing I don’t get ;-)

    Sadly, in more companies lately I’ve seen that same “better to fail than say you are wrong” attitude (and it was in Government 20 years ago…)


    It does look like things are going more downhill than up… and I think you are right about the leaders not knowing how to fix it.

    Reminds me of a dog that finally sunk his teeth into that passing car tire… and realized he didn’t know what to do with it now… ;-)


    Ooohhh! Boballab provides the cogent argument I was lacking! Oh Boy! ;-)


    I’d add:

    4) Terrorists want emotional targets not functional targets. The “big score” with a political / emotional overtone. Or “who cares about a train bridge being blown up”?

    Golly… really like the added batteries idea. Many cars have space for a second battery box under the hood. (One of mine has a tray on both sides. Why? Maybe UK versions? ) But a battery box in the boot is an easy project that would be removable for long trips (and luggage)…


    Could even wire in a 4 kW inverter ( draw of about 400 Amps, so needs starter wire size connections) in the box ready to go.


    Good point about the “corrupting” nature of liberty on the oppressed. Hard to get all worked up about killing yourself when you have a date and 3 good meals a day, and a new car…


    I have a “Red Cross” emergency radio that has a built in LED flashlight. Got it in Florida as I needed an alarm clock (and it is a battery powered alarm radio). Built in weather radio too.

    Solar cells on top, both built in chargeable and secondary removable batteries. And a crank.

    Played with it quite a bit. Radio is “OK”. (AM reception a bit weak… but most of the single chip radios are that way these days) Actually recharges if set by the pool all day. Not so much if set in the window for 1/2 a day and used for a few hours. Hand crank is workable in an emergency, but you get tired of it after a few hours of listening… Externally charging removable batteries works really well. Has a USB cell spigot (that I think can both charge cell phones OR run from a USB power source) that I’ve not tried.

    Generally like it. Belt, suspenders, and manual ;-)

    I got my first generator ( 4 kW Briggs & Stratton engine) on discount like you said. Way cheap. Only had 2 issues with it.

    1) Noisy as all get out. Industrial Strength sound level…

    2) Small gas tank. Refill every hour.

    Got me through a couple of major power outages, but the Spouse could not start it. (Hard pull on a large engine). Got a 1 kW Honda that is 56 dB, size of an overnight bag, and makes 1 kW. Starts with a ‘two finger pull’ for me and the spouse can do it easy. It cost about 2.5 x what I spent for the first one.

    Since getting it, we never used the other one. (Sold it to a friend after a decade of non-use). The “aesthetics” of the Honda were so much better that we didn’t care that it could not run the washer / dryer …) The Honda would run the “media center” and lights in the whole house along with our (fairly efficient) refrigerator. Beyond that we didn’t need much…

    At this point, likely get an inverter wired into the car first. ( At 1 kW it takes about 100 Amps, so not plugging into the cigarette lighter. Needs to be wired in or in a ‘kit’ that can be clipped on the battery with ‘jumper cables’) as it is silent and takes nearly nothing to make go. Then again, the car isn’t always at home.

    But yeah, shopping now is much easier than after the blackouts..


    Caught me a bit by surprise too… but it looks like part of it is the result of private success.

    Seems that a lot of folks are getting enough money to buy A/C and small appliances and are doing that faster than the folks running things can build power supply. Also heard on the news that they are in a transition from central control to distributed control, so where in the past the National level could tell States what to do, now they can’t (and the politics makes it hard to say “no” to voters). So part of the trigger was one of the States drawing more power than they were “allowed” to take (and nobody could say no…) That popped them offline, and then started the cascade failure as a race condition developed between load shedding and then capacity swings in response causing more load shedding… ( Pop Breaker in load shed, excess power causes a plant to trip off line, now too little supply, load shed, ‘wash and repeat’…) At least, per the news.

    Nobody in charge. Nobody who can say “that won’t work”. Nobody who can say “You want power NOW, you pay for it.” Nobody running things as an engineering / economic process…

  15. gallopingcamel says:

    In North Carolina there is plenty of electric power thanks to the “Evil Empire” (Duke) that continues to do what makes sense even though the federal government wants them to do something else.

    Even so, during my 20 years in that fine state hurricanes in the summer and ice storms in the winter caused localized outages lasting a week or more. As Chiefio would expect I “adapted” by installing a buried propane tank (1,000 gallons) to take care of my energy needs. My policy was to refill when it got down to 500 gallons. My generator was only 5 kW (peak) so it could run for weeks on 500 gallons.

    The generator could have been smaller but for the fact that my well pump needed 4 kW to start. My house ran on less than 500 Watts thanks to all those compact fluorescents from Amway as long as I turned off the HVAC in summer. Winters were no problem as my space heating, water heating and cooker were all gas powered.

    Was it worth it? When I started out in 2000 it seemed expensive but propane prices fell while other fuels became more costly. That house was sold in 2004 and I bet the new owner is laughing all the way to the bank. In particular I enjoyed meeting dozens of neighbors following an ice storm. We provided hot showers and cook outs. Our tiny gas water heater with its PVC chimney produced 100,000 BTUs which is equivalent to 29 kW so it did not take long for our hot water to recover!

    Totally off topic. That house in North Carolina dumped the waste heat from the HVAC compressor into our hot water tank. This feature added only a few hundred dollars to the cost of the house. One day I noticed that my shower was cooler than usual and it turned out that the gas heater was not working. The big surprise was that it had not been working for 6 weeks (I have all kinds of data collection that I ignore until something happens). Our hot water had been provided by waste heat from the HVAC system all that time!

    If you guys provoke me I will tell you about my house in Schiedam (Holland) that was 4 meters below mean sea level. The most interesting thing about it was what the Dutch have achieved with natural gas. Impressive.

  16. kakatoa says:

    I imagine some folks in India will be bidding on the “GE Digital Energy Uninterruptable Power Supplies” that will be available at the end of the the London Olympics-

  17. omanuel says:

    If we can get past the irrefutable evidence of fraud in Climategate emails and documents, without retribution (an eye for an eye) for wrongs, . . .

    AGW proponents and skeptics may join forces to return our troubled corner to its proper place in God’s beautiful, bountiful universe:

    And work together for our common goals:

    1. We all want world peace.
    2. An end to racism and nationalistic warfare.
    3. An end to the threat of mutual nuclear annihilation.
    4. Cooperative efforts to protect Earth’s environment and bounty.
    5. Governments controlled by the people being governed, including.
    6. Transparency and veracity (truth) of information given to the public.

    Oliver K. Manuel

  18. w.w.wygart says:

    E.M. well put and well thought out.

    I will point out that grid stability is not the desire of all even well educated and intelligent and generally decent Americans. There exist in certain classes of individual a neurotic preference for a socio-economic fairytale that places real blinders on some people’s ability to perceive the reality of what is required to sustain our economy, the infrastructure we all benefit from and our civil society – inexpensive and available energy.

    I have a good friend back where I used to live, very intelligent guy, teaches at the local college, well educated, PhD [cultural anthropology] who thinks that rolling blackouts are a wonderful idea. He did his doctoral fieldwork in Nepal, studying the sons and daughters of rich westerners [like himself] who rush off to places like Nepal to gain ‘spirituality’ [or something]. He experienced the regular loss of electrical power there as something enriching. He and his future wife would light little ghee lamps and drum and dance the night away with their friends – wonderful. He was unable, is still unable, to see that one of the primary causes of the endemic poverty of Nepal, and the third world in general, is lack of access to inexpensive and reliable energy. Instead he supports an agenda that increases energy prices for everyone, creates rolling blackouts, and transfers wealth from the developed world to the undeveloped world.

    For someone who is generally a very positive-sum kind of game player, I cannot understand this negative-sum socio-political strategy. As best I can tell this isn’t meant in any kind of a malicious or vindictive way, but he really can’t quite allow himself to see what the effect on the local economy that pays his salary would be if nobody knew when they would have electricity available to run their homes, businesses, or colleges – and its not lack of intelligence – I’m not sure what it is, but it does seem to involve some kind of unwillingness to look in certain directions, namely that some of his ideas may not work.

    Thinking of him I realized that, “There are certain types who treat taxpayers as an inexhaustible resource in exactly the same way that the lumber barons of the 19th – 20th centuries treated trees.”


  19. w.w.wygart says:

    I especially like Simon Derricutt’s point at 9:57PM:

    The grid was a solution to the problem of electricity generating kit being large and requiring expert maintenance, with not enough people trained and competent enough to have more than a few built at a time. Those days are long gone, and mass-produced generators require very little maintenance, so smaller gensets and possibly more intelligent use of the electricity produced should be the way of the future. You can even buy a drop-in nuclear power-station, fuelled for 20 years needing no maintenance in that time.

    I would hasten to point out that Simon is nailing a specific instance of the general evolutionary trend towards decentralization. Human civilization up to this point has been involved mostly with the centralization of all things. Global civilization is in the process of shaking off that meme as essentially unworkable. The engineer needs to politely mention to his boss that his plan for New World Order a la United Nations simply cannot work. It’s like trying to grow an ant three feet long, chitin as exoskeleton cannot support the loads involved and the ant is crushed under its own weight.

    Something analogous the ‘square-cube law’ is involved here that limits the scalability of human governmental systems as well as aircraft. The energy, actual energy or bureaucratic energy, required as inputs increases to the point of unworkability. As I’ve pointed out elsewhere, we are hitting that wall now.


  20. Jason Calley says:

    @ w.w.wygart (and Simon as well)
    Yes! The push toward decentralization is a natural result of our shift into newer (especially digital information) technology. Twenty years ago, only a studio could produce a decent movie, now amateurs make them with home equipment. Same for books. Now 3D printers are becoming available, and small microwave metal casting units. The ability to create, publish and disseminate information is almost universal. We are living in the time of Gutenberg 2.0 and both societies and governments are reforming. This is painful now, but expect to see the world become a better and (even though it seems unlikely now!) more free place for individuals as these changes spread.

  21. Pascvaks says:

    Thoughts on ‘India In Darkness‘-
    @Jason Calley (312152): Interesting perspective. A paradigm shift writ BIG. Why? And who are ‘They’? Imagine yourself as a ‘Futurist Spook’ trying to answer that conundrum. Or, imagine you know exactly what’s going on about something and everyone else is totally in the dark and believing some tripe that hasn’t been true (really;-) for ~150 years. Now the problem is deciding if you’re going to risk what will happen if you say something; it really is a BIG risk, people in denial (or in their own mistaken reality) tend to think you are the one who is crazy.
    @OManuel : “The sad part is that society is disintegrating today.”
    Maybe we’re just going faster than is safe for the contraption we’re driving? Or, another way of looking at it: we’re pulling and throwing out ‘cards’ in our haste to update and expand our House of Cards that really are holding some things up that really are important? I don’t think we’re really at a ’new’ point in time; I think we’ve been at this crossroads many times before (’we‘ meaning ‘people‘), it’s just that we (the idiots in the saddle now) can’t remember which road leads to heaven and which one leads to hell. But, not that it matters, somehow we always pick the wrong one anyway. Ergo: you’re absolutely right!
    @All : We really do live in one, or for a few perhaps a few, of many different worlds on the same little planet. It’s going to take more than a little time to change that. To say that we live in a village on one world with many villages, is very dangerous to our own health and welfare. Worlds are far more complicated than villages, and the villages of one world are quite different than those in every other world. Right now, at this point in time, “It Takes A World!”

    PS: Regarding ‘Power Generation’ I have no doubt that it will one day be all part and parcel to the house, cell, condo, we live in. Our kids are finally going to put an end to using trees or ugly concrete poles to ‘distribute’ power the way we do today. No bout a’doubt it!;-)

  22. j ferguson says:

    We lived in Coconut Grove, a bit south of Miami during Hurricane Andrew. Our home was without electricity for 3 weeks. We had an office on the west side of town that was repowered next day.
    Home had electric hurricane shutters, the substantial aluminum roller type that were, of course, down for the blow. They had no manual operator and so could not be raised without power, or fairly complex and risky dis-assembly.

    The answer was to bring a large UPS from the office, we were Sun Microsystem VARS at the time, and use it to power the blinds up so that we could get some air circulation in the house the better to sleep at night.

    we had a 12 volt tv, which sat in the open hatchback of the nissan sentra parked in the the car-port and entertained us while we ate pizza and drank carlo rossi’s less than finest.

    If my memory is at all accurate, about half the people killed died in auto accidents at now-unsignaled intersections. volunteers directed traffic at many, but not all of them.

    but all this is nothing compared to a total outage.

  23. E.M.Smith says:

    @J. Furguson:

    Sounds like an interesting time ….

    Why I have a generator AND a car powered inverter…

    @R. de Haan:

    Like the “dig” at ‘ol Patchy… ;-)

    Dealing with waste water really isn’t very hard. Put it in a puddle in the sun and wait…

    @Pascvaks & Jason:

    Honda sells a home integrated natural gas cogenerator unit in the North East (thinking folks in California don’t need the heat…) while Capstone sells a 30 kW unit to industrial sized users ( my kids old high school has one to heat the pool. Yes, they have a swimming pool at school ;-) For the same nat gas bill that used to just heat the pool, they also get 30 kW of electricity to run the A/C in the classrooms…

    Try to raise electricity rates too high in the context of low nat gas prices will just cause a whole lot more ‘roll your own’ electricity…


    Also, per the ant, oxygen is distributed via pipes inside. The air capacity is proportional to the area of the pipe that is the square of the linear dimension. Oxygen demand goes as the cube of linear dimension. At about 3 feet, they could only work at higher air pressure. The existence of 3 foot dragon flies in ancient times is a strong argument that air pressure was higher then…

    The production of power locally is reaching a new lower bound. Laptops and cell phones with built in micro-generators running on butane. It is only a matter of time until we have a TV set that you can just fuel up and a light bulb that makes its own electricity. Only the relative cost of distribution of electrons vs fuel and the ratio of the two generator efficiencies matters. Set rates for one artificially high and the balance will shift… “Camping” is getting a lot easier and a lot more efficient. I don’t really need ‘wall power’ for my laptop, and through it my new TV, or my cell phone, or even my lighting. What’s left? Cooking, heating, washing, bathing. Cooking I’m already moving to fuel driven. Heating water? Well, those LENR gizmos only need to marginally work to make warm / hot water…

    BTW, I’d assert that WRITING regulations is a linear process, while COMPLIANCE is an exponential task as interactions between regulations must be dealt with. IMHO that’s why economies slowly fail under new “regulation”.

    Per “the Ph.D. friend”: Remember the flagilants?

    Same thing, just modern clothing…


    The problem is that some folks, especially those in positions of privilege, don’t share all those goals with the rest of us…


    Oh to be near London when the bidding closes… Shipping to California being a bit much…


    Sounds like a good setup. Especially the buried tank. My Florida Friend has a large propane tank… siting just next to the house wall. I’d be a bit worried in a real hurricane, but he thinks the house will go first….

    For me, the weather is so rarely “bad” that we don’t have much waste heat to recycle. When “heating season” comes it is often the fact that the heater has not been used for 9 months. We had a window mounted AC for a while, but the spouse said it gave her headaches, so we just don’t us AC any more. Haven’t really noticed. ( It was a bit warm in the 1990s, but has cooled nicely since). Then again, if I really cared, I could put a black hose on the roof and get all the hot water we want 9+ months of the year…

    So what HAVE the Dutch done with natural gas?

  24. P.G. Sharrow says:

    Honda got its’ start providing a tiny gasoline engine driven generators that held and powered a single 60watt light bulb. Cutest thing I ever saw, about the size of 2 fists together, light bulb straight up so you could snap a shade onto it. Wish I had bought one. IIRC $60 at the Subic Bay PX in 1965. pg

  25. kakatoa says:


    I came across a couple of sites that discuss a PTO generator for electrical energy-

    Our little Massey Ferguson tractor is fueled up in the event I need it for fire protection. That and my wife has me working on getting her some new garden areas- she wants about 60 feet by 20 feet leveled, which is doable, for some raised beds. I have started leveling an area for her and I get to mix in some well aged compost/manure shortly. We are having a bit of a disagreement about the exact location……….. I want to be able to quickly get to the back 4 acres with the tractor if I need to. I will need to fence in the garden area as the deer enjoy visiting us nightly and I noticed a couple extra jack rabbits yesterday about 70 feet from the future garden area.

  26. P.G. Sharrow says:

    @Kakatoa; It is best to have a southeast to south exposure with at least 6hours of full sun. Varmints can be a serious problem for the gardener, specially in a wild area or woods. Deer, bear, rabbits, racoons and gophers are a problem for me. With serious fences, the gophers are my main problem now. The moles are only an annoyance. When I first cleared my kitchen garden area,( see my blog), it wouldn’t even grow weeds. The creation of beds and soil took sometime and as the garden improved growing the varmints visits increased. My beds run parallel to the grade and are 4 ft wide. That is about the maximum width that someone can tend from booth sides.
    Wish I could have afforded a small Massy when I started my present place as they are very good tractors and can last a lifetime with little repair cost. We used all kinds of tractor brands when I was a farmer. Except for one giant 120hp that was a real dog all the other Massys were very dependable. pg

  27. kakatoa says:

    PG- Sorry for the delay in getting back to you. I missed your post till this am.

    We are in good shape exposure wise for the soon to be new garden area. I took down some horse fencing that we no longer needed recently- specifically to get south and west exposure for the new garden. The new garden area gets 9 to 10 hours of direct sunlight a day in the spring, summer and fall. The garden area isn’t too far away from the building we put PV on a few years back. Our existing garden area was in full sun about 20 years ago. I am partly to blame for it being less sunny in the existing garden area currently. I replaced a rather large grape arbor (12 feet by 20 feet) a few years back and to save the very old Isabella grape vine that provides shade under the arbor I had to make the new structure bigger. It’s 14 feet by 22 feet now and I had to raise the height a tad. It’s a tad taller then 10 feet now. We have a few fig and pepper trees just to the south of grape arbor as well. The trees have grown a lot so the existing garden area (currently 4 raised beds) no longer gets full sun for a sufficient period of time most of the year (except for 1 bed which is just fine).

    Our live stock guard dog- an 11 year old Central Asian Sheppard- used to live in the pasture I removed. She keep all predators (even the 2 legged ones) away from the property and our live stock. For some reason she doesn’t like rabbits or the wild turkeys either. Deer on the other hand walk right past here and she doesn’t make a peep. We do have some issue with gophers, moles and voles. I had to replace all the underground irrigation for our little vineyard a few years back as the buggers keep chewing through the main drip lines- I used to have to replace the emitters 3 to 4 times a year due to the holes they made in the main drip lines.

    Our little (30 HP) MF 4X4 tractor has a few attachments; bucket, scrapper and mower that have come in handy over the years. It has been super robust mechanically. In the 10+ years we have owned it I have only had to replace a battery and change the oil and filters- it just goes and goes. I bought it used (something like 20 hours on the clock) when I was still working in the corporate world.

    I’ll check out your blog shortly. As to the reliable power issue in India- A bit more info on what happened in India with the grid- ….”Could This Historic Blackout Have Been Avoided? Yes. This was a clear case of mismanagement by the regional load dispatch centers which were negligent or did not see the warning signals. There should have been…..”

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