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Thread: Outage Outrage :)

  1. #1
    Master Mossdog's Avatar
    Join Date
    Nov 2007

    Outage Outrage :)

    Having just emerged, this morning, from 11 days of no connection to the electricity grid, I thought I’d share a few observations and tips that might serve you well in the future when similar weather phenomena, or worst, befalls the UK.

    First a bit of context. We live at over 1300 feet, up a single track road, in the north Pennines and we’ve lived here for the best part of 30 years. Being, like I assume most fell runners, we could be described as ‘outdoorsey’, so are used to spending a lot of time in the mountains and great outdoors, carrying our own equipment, and developing a self-sufficient mentality. It’s been quite revealing seeing how some of our newly arrived neighbours have coped, or rather not, particularly those who have moved from down-south, or from more urban lifestyles.

    HEATING. Sorry, but if you’ve invested in air-source or ground-source heating, following Government advice, and other forms of electricity dependent cooking and heating (and transport) you would have been stuffed and your house rendered barely inhabitable. Maybe a large standby diesel generator would have kept these going, but it would be extremely expensive and rather defeat the object.

    So what works? LPG stoves/heaters run from gas bottles are not expensive, but be careful as some need electricity too. Premium option? An oil fired, vapour condensing Aga runs when needed without electricity, and act as a heater, toaster, kettle, clothes drier, oven, hot hobs and much more. A tank with 2000 litres of oil helps too and will keep you going for 5 to 6 months (nearly into the Spring!). Obviously, it’s a big investment initially and only suitable to old farm house type properties. Think LPG.

    A multi-fuelled stove. Not a ‘log-burner’ preferably. Yes, log burners will help but they are let down by the fact that you need to keep refuelling them every few hours and hauling lots of logs indoors. A pain when you have to leave the house in the morning to go to work and return to a cooler house in the evening.

    Anthracite coal. Not bitumous which needs a high temp to burn. Anthracite is ‘smoke-less’ and burns without producing the crap that messes up the glass on your stove. An anthracite fuelled stove can burn for 5 to 6 weeks without you needing to remake the fire every day, You just riddle it twice a day, empty the ash-trays and refuel it once a day. Constant heat. Buy a large one and don’t go for the boiler attached option (cuts room heating by 50%).

    Don’t be fooled by the advice of stove sellers and installers who use a formula based on your room size to calculate the size you need. That formula is basically echoing back to the idea of central heating radiators and open fires. Stoves (used in Scandinavia for decades) are designed to heat your whole house. You never run them at full KW capacity. Your open all the doors to your home and the heat permeates by convection throughout the house. A large stove will also allow you to load it with sufficient capacity to burn for a long time. Ours will go for 48 hours more or less, if we leave it alone and are away from the house for a few days. Remember – the Government wants to ban coal and oil and convert us all to electricity!

    WATER. Unless you have a spring feed supply, and if you’re on the mains as we are, you may be surprised that whereever you live your water supply depends on electric powered pumps. These pump the water up to a tank or reservoir and gravity does the rest. Our supply is pumped to a tank near the fell and has enough water to supply our small community of a few farms and homes for about 4 days. Previously, when we’ve had electricity cuts (usually once a year on average but just for a day or so) the Water Board, puts a generator at the transit van-sized, local pumping station just down the road. Storm Arwen meant that the whole region was hit and consequently there weren’t enough generators to go around. So, when the lights flicker, fill the bath and jerry-cans. Living without water is far worse than without electricity for obvious reasons. Also, if you’ve the space put in some water harvest tanks, butts, etc. to catch rain water – you can filter though a piece of textile and boil if needed.

    CASH! Yes, when the region is without electricity the local shops that rely on Switch and the like are stuffed, but some if they remain open, will take cash. If you can get out, you’ll need to buy provisions if the roads are clear of snow, electric wires and trees, etc. as your freezer and fridge will stop after a day or two. Sadly, our local village and town Co-ops were ‘hands-up-surrender-monkeys’ and pulled the shutters down and let every thing inside their freezers rot and denied people the chance to buy candles, batteries, tinned food etc. However, two of your lovely independent village shops were open (head-torches to show you around) took cash or provided a line of credit to the cashless. Remember – the Government want to get rid of cash!! Can you imagine the sheer chaos if this extended outage had national or a wider region. Fancy bartering beetroots for batteries, dead iphones for a pair of woolly socks anyone?

    COMMUNICATIONS. Mobile masts need electricity and so they’re hit as are digital cordless landline phones. The copper overhead phone lines seemed to survive here. We dug out 3 old analogue phones from under the stairs and supplied elderly neighbours with 2 of these (along with camping gas/meths stoves as they opted to remain where they were) . That meant they could order food deliveries etc, and stay in touch with relatives. Trying to press ‘hash’ on a rotary dial was an issue though ☺ Remember – BT wants to close down the analogue system!

    TRANSPORT. Owning diesel and petrol cars meant that once the roads were clear we could not only get to places to buy ‘stuff’, but also charge up some devices. Obviously with an EV you’re stuffed. I’d imagine that if this had happened on a larger scale, the road would have been clogged with stranded EVs, blocking the way for emergency vehicles. We’ve always had a store of petrol and diesel in cans – just in case! You can’t store electricity in a similar way.

    OFFICIAL SUPPORT. We’ve still heard nowt from County Durham or the Northern PowerGrid – pathetic really. But, the community has been great and neighbours have helped each other out and checked on as many others as they could reach. You may have seen on the News that the Army have been called in. That’s true. On day 9 (!!!) two camouflaged lads from the Royal Lancers knocked on the front door to ask if we were all Ok. They looked like they were 15 years old and asked, as the mild sleet fell, if the weather was always as bad as this! As they were shivering we invited them in for a cuppa and a warm by the fire, but they refused due to orders about Covid restrictions and so went on their way. 15 minutes later another pair, similarly shivering, arrived and asked the same questions. Look, these young lads were great and I salute their politeness and concern and the job they do. But really, the British Army arriving too late, poorly equipped and poorly organised! Same old. It’s those up the chain of command that appear to be buffoons.

    CONCLUSION. We’re told to expect more extreme weather. As you will note if you’ve read this far, we were able to warm ourselves in the smug glow of self-satisfaction that we were well prepared to ‘weather’ these conditions. It’s been an adventure for us, but for many elderly people, living in all-electric OAP housing association homes or on their own, it’s been dangerous. Stuck up or down stairs because their stair-lifts haven’t worked. Electric wheel chairs immobile. This is appalling planning, or lack of any planning or thoughtfulness about infrastructure.

    No one expects 19 electricity poles between their community and the lower dale mains to be snapped like twigs, leaving behind splintered stumps in the upper intakes and upper, hard to reach fields. The Northern Power Grid lads were brilliant, working in crap conditions day and night (our lot were brought in from Essex) – no complaints. But I worry about how the Government seems to want to undermine our fuel independence and take resilience out of the National system, leaving us as potential fragile supine victims. All of this was foreseeable, just like the Financial Crisis and the Pandemic, and yet we walked, are walking, straight into it!

    Sorry for the rant but hopefully sharing our experiences will help someone else prepare too. Now, where’s those candles. Storm Barra is nearly upon us
    Eat more cake because life is shorter than you thi...

  2. #2
    Join Date
    Apr 2009
    Luckily we have had no problems where we are in Ambleside, but some within a mile of us were cut off for days - no electricity, and roads blocked by trees. I heard on the radio this morning that one of the problems slowing down restoring electricity was replacing outdated components - some were 40 years old. It would seem there has been insufficient investment in the infrastructure over the decades.

  3. #3
    Moderator noel's Avatar
    Join Date
    Jan 2007
    Western Peak District
    Thanks Mossdog. That is really useful. And you're right, if we're planning for more extreme whether events, it's reasonable to plan for this happening to more us in the future.

    We are currently looking into transitioning from oil-fired to air-source heating. And although that seems like a bad idea for fuel independence, it will make no difference, as the central heating pump needs electricity either way. Of course the carbon emissions are very different.

    Thankfully we do also have a multi-fuel stove in one room and still cook with LPG.

    1300 feet! Do you manage to grow veg?

  4. #4
    Master molehill's Avatar
    Join Date
    Jan 2007
    Interesting points, here in rural mid Wales we missed the big infrastructure problems, it did blow a bit but nothing was "out" for long. I think rural dwellers are far more used to the problems and better able to cope - we tend to take it in our stride and carry on - but most who have moved here in the last few years come from urban backgrounds and are pretty hopeless at foreward planning, a candle, what's a candle? I would have to buy a generator to keep the freezers going.
    We depend entirely on our woodburner stove, this does stay in on wood overnight and with a big log on I can get 24 hours out of it (and we have a wood and woodsheds), so long as that is going we have house warmth (that is the only house heating),and cooking. I think woodburners are on the hit list to phase out sometime in the future and recieving much bad press hmmm!!! Many are purely cosmetic in houses - as in they look nice and make occupants feel sort of rural and country - some of us are 100% dependant on them and use no oil, gas or coal, besides what do people think would happen to all the dead and fallen trees that come down if not logged for useage. Most probably put on a bonfire and burnt.
    Ultimately it is not the government that are wanting change, it is us around the world that are demanding it due to climate change. Clean energy only please we all scream (not in 10 years time, right now) and the government respond with whatever bright idea is currently doing the rounds.
    Don't roll with a pig in poo. You get covered in poo and the pig likes it.

  5. #5
    Master Hank's Avatar
    Join Date
    Oct 2009
    I'd have thought wind-generated energy would work pretty well at 400m above sea level. Won't be too long 'til we have effective battery storage in homes and all your worries will be solved!
    Geoff Clarke
    Lancaster Runners

  6. #6
    Join Date
    Jan 2007
    Having a camper van kitted out for off grid camping helps give peace of mind, as does having a generator in the garage.
    The older I get the Faster I was

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