Category: Energy Savers

How To Survive A Permanent Power Outage

How To Survive A Permanent Power Outage

Even though most of us are familiar to short-term power outages and would easily make it without electricity for one or two days, most people don’t even consider the possibilities of going their entire lives without the commodity of electrical power. And why would they? Power is plenty and is available everywhere apparently. But the infrastructure on which it was all built is crumbling, in dire need of modernization. Electricity may well be the first commodity to go! Surviving such rapid turns of events will be trickier than you can imagine. What I’m talking about here is pure survival in the absence the most defining power source of our modern society.

It’s not about managing day by day without entertainment (tv, internet, cell phones etc.), it’s more than that: it’s about preserving and cooking food, it’s about communicating over long distances in cases of emergency, it’s about keeping your house lit at night and your family warm during cold seasons. We’ll need to “downgrade” in lifestyle in order to stay alive, but that’s a small price to pay for the opulence and decadence of this past century. Let’s have a look at what can keep us going during the hard times that lie ahead.

How To Preserve Food And Cook Without Power

If the power dies and your fridge is full, you got about two days until the contents start spoiling. Don’t panic and don’t throw the food away. 48 hours is plenty of time to act and save most of what you have in the freezer. You’ll need to act quickly on preserving foods like meat, eggs, dairy, fruit, and veggies. There are plenty of ways of saving your food and keeping it fresh and edible for long periods of times, be it meat, potatoes or easily pickled vegetables. Also be aware of the fact that many of the products that people tend to keep in the fridge don’t necessarily belong there in the first place. Stuff like ketchup, sauces, mayonnaise (maybe), jams and spices will be just fine outside as long as they’re not directly exposed to high temperatures (room temperature will do).

If you have your mind set on keeping your food in freezing conditions, there are alternatives that are easy to make and will get the job done. The Zeer pot is a natural refrigerator (based on evaporation), excellent when it comes to cooling. You just need to pots, one smaller than the other, so that it can fit right in. Place sand in the bigger pot, so that there’s no free space left when you place the smaller pot in. Make sure the big pot is unglazed. After doing so, pour cool water on the sand so that it’s nice and moist. Place the food in the smaller pot, and cover the top with a wet cloth. Once the water begins to evaporate, it will escape through the unglazed pot, producing a cooling effect which will keep your food 3 times fresher then if it was left out. This method is perfect especially for dairy products, but not only.

Cooking on a normal barbecue grill in this scenario might be a valid solution, but not for long. As gas and charcoal will become less and less available, your best option is to build yourself a rocket stove. It’s very fuel-efficient, due to the fact that it can generate a high amount of heat for a minimum amount of fuel. It does so by moving large amounts of air through its body, ensuring that the fuel is completely burned. This keeps the flame burning rapidly and maintains the high temperature constant. And it’s very easy and cheap to put together.

How To Heat Your Home

Once the power failures strike, common heating sources (electric radiators, central heating, and even gas stoves) will become obsolete. The best option is installing a fireplace or a wood burning stove. Special precautions need to be taken first though: ensure that it’s completely sealed and secured (so that noxious CO2 or fire embers can’t escape). CO2 can be fatal if you’re exposed to it for long periods of time (especially if it starts leaking while you’re sleeping) and burning embers might land on flammable surfaces and cause fires. So install your stove correctly! The chimney doesn’t have to be anything fancy; you can simply run it through a window. Simply remove the pane of glass and run the chimney through the empty space created. After you’re done, just cover the exposed area with plywood.

Wood stove

Alternative Power Sources

I know what you’re thinking: a gas-powered generator is the best solution for this type of scenario. It is, but for how long do you think gas will be available after the power grid gets shut down? As long as you’re good on gas provisions, these types of generators are more than useful. But once the gas is out and getting it will be dam near impossible, you’ll need to find other ways of generating power. Solar panels or wind generators are the best options available and will provide you and you’re family with at least some energy, in order to ease everyday life as much as possible. Upon purchasing such a system, make sure that your investment will fully accommodate your needs. Alternative energy systems are way more efficient if they come with a battery storage unit, in order to stock power that can be used at any time of the day. So if you invest wisely, you can have more than enough energy throughout the whole day in order to power a mini-fridge, a radio, a laptop or even an energy-friendly air conditioner. It basically comes down to how much you’re willing to spend.

Useful Items To Have

Here are a few basics items that will be very useful if you find yourself in a no-power scenario:

• Extra candles, matches and a couple of candle lanterns. This can be purchased or improvised

• Get a couple of flashlights. The LED ones are more power-efficient, but crank flashlights are the better option

• Get a solar-powered radio or a crank radio, so you can stay informed at all times

• Manual can openers are easy to use and to procure

• Always keep your car’s gas tank at least at half capacity and store some gas canisters for emergency situations

• Keep ice in the freezer; when the power goes, the ice will prolong the coolness for as much as possible

LED flashlight Just follow these simple rules and you should be ok when the power gets eventually cut off. Based on visible signs, we’re not far away from facing the end of civilization as we know it. Don’t wait for disaster to strike, get ready in advance and hope for the best. As long as you’re prepared, everything should play out just fine.

Compost Power – Combustion Free Hot Water And Heating

Compost Power

These two videos show “how compost power works” and how systems are built using either the modified Jean Pain method or the Agrilab Technologies Isobar method for larger scale systems. Below the videos is a step by Design Guide for Jean Pain style systems.

Video 1: Modified Jean Pain system built by Ben Falk of for winter greenhouse heating:

Video 2: How the Agrilab Technologies Isobar system works to heat a large winter greenhouse at Jasper Hill Farm in Vermont:

Step-By-Step Instuctions for building a Mound de Pain

Design Guide Download

There are other ways to approach recipes, dimensions, aeration, and heat exchange pipe for Jean Pain style systems but this Design Guide gives details of one generic approach. Contact us for specific help with your project!

1. Location, Foundation:

The mound should be located as close to the destination for the hot water as possible but you’ll need space for a equipment (tractor, truck) to access at least one side of the mound. Construction starts by making a level aerated foundation surface by spreading large diameter dry wood-chips into approximately a two-foot thick circular pad that is 4 feet wider than the actual Compost Power mound will be. To encourage air-flow into the central/lower sections of the mound, it’s recommended to install a perforated pipe inside the foundation of wood-chips that extends from the outside edge of the foundation and is coiled into the central core of the foundation. Flexible 4-inch corrugated perforated drainage pipe is ideal for this but any perforated pipe will work. The perforated pipe can be coiled in a circular fashion under the lower section the foundation-layer, or straight-pipes can be laid across the foundation as the wood-chips are spread around on top of the pipe. If you have 30-40 cubic yards of “hot mix” (bark mulch or a mixture of mulch, chips, sawdust, manure) the diameter of the lower section of your mound should be 16-18 feet and the diameter of the foundation should be 20-22 feet.

2. Center, Outer-dimensions:

Mark the center and have a partner walk in a circle with a rope the same length as the radius you want the mound and foundation to be, marking the perimeter of the mound and the foundation with stakes. Leave a tall stake in the center of the mound.

3. Hot-Mix:

Loosely spread a 2-foot thick layer of “hot mix” or bark-mulch on top of the foundation, forming the lower-base of your Compost Power mound. Avoid compacting this material as much as possible while raking the material around.

4. Supply Pipe:

Now it’s time to set the pipes for “supply” (hot water that will come from the mound) and “return” (cold water that will circulate back into the mound): The “supply” pipe should be laid from the destination of your hot water across the center of the mound. Temporarily coil/tie this pipe to the central stake while leaving 10 feet of excess pipe that will eventually reach up to the top of the mound and connect to the top layer of pipe which will bring hot water back to your heating application.

5. Return Pipe:

We recommend using 300-foot spools of high-pressure poly (larger spools are hard to handle) while keeping the spool together using a cargo-strap. Lay the end of the “return” section of pipe next to the supply pipe extending from the destination of your heating application. Begin unrolling this pipe and coiling it around the center stake in as tight of the coil as possible without kinking the pipe. (2-foot diameter for the first coil).  Gradually unroll the spool laying the pipe in circular rings from the center of the mound outward. Keep 8-10 inches of space between each coil on the first layer of pipe. Use cinder-blocks or large stones to temporarily hold the pipes in place as you coil them across the mound. For a 16-food diameter mound, you should be able to make 7-coils of water-line on the lower layers which amount to about 120 feet of water-line. The outer ring of pipe on the first layer should be 12-18 inches from the outer edge of the “hot mix”. Once the final ring is laid on the first layer, set the rest of the spooled water-line aside on the outer-foundation.

6. Hot-Mix:

Dump several yards of hot-mix on top of the coiled water-line, loosely spreading the material around with rakes, until the material is level with the top of the cinder-blocks. (cinder blocks serve to hold the pipe in place and as a “depth gauge” to make it easy to tell when each layer of the mix is thick enough). Remove the blocks and spread the material into the gaps where the blocks where. Each layer of hot-mix should be 8-10 inches thick. Avoid packing the hot mix down by using rakes to spread the material while standing on the outer-foundation.

7. Repeat #5 and #6:

For the 2nd and 3rd layers of coiled pipe, you’ll have a slightly more condensed footprint of the waterline compared to the first layer. As each layer of hot mix is spread over the pipes, the side-walls of the mound will begin to “cone” and get more narrow. This means you’ll need to gradually concentrate the rings of the coiled pipe more closely together (6 inches in between rings instead of 8-10). To get 900 feet of pipe into your mound which is the recommended amount based on 30-yards of hot-mix, you’ll end up with 7 to 8 layers of coiled pipe. For the 4th and 5th layer you’ll have to reduce the number of rings of coiled water-line from 7 to 6. For the 6th and 7th layer of coiled water-line reduce the number of rings from 6 to 5 while maintaining 6 inches of space between each ring and keeping the outer-most ring 12 inches from the edge of the mound.

8. Final Layer Supply Tie-in:

As you run out of heat-exchanging water-line on the top/final layer, use an elbow-coupling to connect the supply/return pipes together with C-clamps. Hit the end of the poly-tubing with a 10-second blast from a propane torch to make it easy to insert the coupling into the pipes. Then cover the final layer of water-coils with at least 18 inches of loose-filled hot-mix.

9. Outer Insulation:

Now the basic mound is complete, and the final step is to cover the entire mound with an air-permeable insulating layer of wood-chips or loose-packed hay. Use the outer-ring of the foundation-layer as the base where you can pile this insulating material up along the sides of the mound. A 12-24 inch thick layer of insulating wood-chips or hay will improve the winter-performance of the mound while still allowing passive aeration to keep the heat-generating microbes alive.

10. Plumbing, Pumps, Application-side:

Now it’s time to install a circulation pump and any water-storage tanks or manifolds that would split the circulation into hydronic heating zones. The simplest way to use this heat is to simply install a 1/8 or 1/16 HP pump in your basement (or greenhouse) on either the supply or return line attached to a water tank. The circulation pump will keep the water-tank full of hot water at all times and you can pull hot water from the tank as needed. The tank should be plumbed to a pressurized water-source so that any time you use hot water the tank will refill and that fresh water will be heated back up by the mound circulation. Another possibility is to simply install a “manifold” on both the supply and return water-lines. This will split the circulation into as many “zones” as the manifold has so that you could move hot water through zones of a hydronic heating system (radiant-floor-loops or radiators). Any competent plumber or HVAC professional can help with these details depending on the heating application. If the mound is attached to a pressurized open water system you’ll also need a pressure-tank to accommodate the fluctuations in temp/pressure.

11. Monitor Temperature:

Your Compost Power mound should be able to produce 110-140 degree water within 10 days of construction. If the “hot mix” or foundation-layer of wood-chips gets excessively wet during construction because of rain, it may take 3-4 weeks to dry out to allow the aeration to kick-start the heating culture of the microbes in the material. A 4-foot temp-probe (Reostat) is a great tool to measure the temperature of your mound in different places.

12: BTUs and Flow-Rates:

Once your mound is up to 120-160 degrees you can fill the water-line (using a fill-valve to ensure there are no air-bubbles in a pressurized system, or by simply attaching a hose to the return-pipe to push water through the mound and out of the supply-pipe). The simplest way to calculate the btu-production of your mound is to check the temperature of the water going into the mound (most well-water is 45-50 degrees) and then track the temperature and flow-rate of the water coming out of the supply-pipe. A 30-40 yard mound with 900 feet of water line inside should be able to convert 45-degree well-water to 110-140 degree water with a sustainable flow-rate between 1 and 4 liters per minute. The sustainable flow-rate can be determined by gradually increasing the flow between 1 and 4 liters per minute and tracking the temperature of the water coming out over a period of 30-60 minutes. If the water output temperature remains steady, gradually increase the flow rate until the output temperature starts to drop. Flow-meters, temperature sensors, “thermocouples” or circulation/monitoring devices normally used with solar-hot-water systems can also be installed for on-going monitoring of the output.

13. BTU-calculation:

Once you know the output temperature of the water and the sustainable flow-rate you can calculate the BTU-output. For example, if you can sustain 3 liters per minute while turning 50-degree well-water into 130 degrees, that means you’ve got a “Delta-T” of 85 degrees and about 40 gallons of flow per hour. Multiply the number of gallons by 8.34 pounds per gallon and you get 333 pounds of water per hour. Multiply the Delta-T by the pounds and you get the BTUs per hour which in this case is about 28,000 BTUs per hour, equivalent to having a mid-sized wood stove burning at full-bore continuously. In this example, you would be able to capture more than 120 million BTUs during a 6 month winter-heating season, which is the equivalent of 7 cords of firewood burned in a 75% efficient wood-stove or $3,500 worth of propane at $3.50/gallon.

Summary Notes

Most Compost Power systems can be built in a single day with the right materials and equipment. Three to five people should be able to construct a mound this size in an eight hour period with the use of a small tractor or excavator to dump mulch onto the mound as each layer is built. Wheel-barrows and pitchforks turn this into a multi-day project (shoveling and tossing many tons of mulch is hard but satisfying work). We believe a mound this size could produce between 20,000 and 40,000 btus per hour, enough to heat an average Vermont home. A mound made of shredded bark or bark + woodchips should produce heat for twelve to eighteen months.

Feedstocks: Bark Mulch, Wood Chips, Sawdust

We believe a variety of feedstock-materials can be used to generate significant heat. Controlled tests are being conducted through UVM and other demonstration-sites to document the temperature and longevity of various combinations of mulch, chips, sawdust, manure and other compost-process materials. Some materials or mixtures may run hotter but for shorter periods of time. Hardwood materials may provide more heat than soft materials but softwoods may heat for longer periods.

It’s important for at least some of the material to be shredded or small-diameter wood-chips to provide enough surface area for the bacteria and air to reach the material and build a critical mass of activity (heat).

A mound made of wood-chips alone will produce 95 to 110-degree water for in the spring/summer/fall but will cool off in the winter. Shredded bark-mulch works very well and should provide 110 to 140-degree water as long as it’s fresh and has not been contaminated with industrial lubricants. Rot-resistant feeds-stocks like cedar, hemlock or black locust will not produce heat and are to be absolutely avoided. Pine is ok in small proportions but not recommended as the primary feedstock. Fresh double ground barks will provide about the right particle size for most projects but wood-chips mixed with sawdust and/or manure will also work. The quality of the feedstock and the aeration of the system are the main factors determining the amount of heat produced and the value of the compost after you stop collecting heat from it.

Design-Build Notes

We are experimenting with various ways to embed heat exchangers into Compost Power mounds. There are lots of possibilities but the method outlined above is the simplest and most affordable. Moisture content is important also. Too much water will fill the spaces between the particles and reduce available oxygen. Insufficient water will reduce overall biological activity. The humidity of 30% to 50% is ideal. Covering the mound with loose-packed hay or other air permeable insulation will improve winter heat output of the mound. Tubing and other materials can be recycled so the second mound should be less expensive to construct than the first. Measuring the circumference of each layer of the tubing relative to the center-stake is helpful so that you know where the tubing is when you tear down the mound. (this makes it easier to use equipment to tear it down without breaking the tubing). However, even if you break the tubing a few times while tearing down your mound, you can just splice it back together.

The Growing Threat From An EMP Attack

The Growing Threat From An EMP Attack

In a recent letter to investors, billionaire hedge-fund manager Paul Singer warned that an electromagnetic pulse, or EMP, is “the most significant threat” to the U.S. and our allies in the world. He’s right. Our food and water supplies, communications, banking, hospitals, law enforcement, etc., all depend on the electric grid. Yet until recently little attention has been paid to the ease of generating EMPs by detonating a nuclear weapon in orbit above the U.S., and thus bringing our civilization to a cold, dark halt.

Recent declassification of EMP studies by the U.S. government has begun to draw attention to this dire threat. Rogue nations such as North Korea (and possibly Iran) will soon match Russia and China and have the primary ingredients for an EMP attack: simple ballistic missiles such as Scuds that could be launched from a freighter near our shores; space-launch vehicles able to loft low-earth-orbit satellites; and simple low-yield nuclear weapons that can generate gamma rays and fireballs.

The much neglected 2004 and 2008 reports by the congressional EMP Commission—only now garnering increased public attention—warn that “terrorists or state actors that possess relatively unsophisticated missiles armed with nuclear weapons may well calculate that, instead of destroying a city or a military base, they may gain the greatest political-military utility from one or a few such weapons by using them—or threatening their use—in an EMP attack.”


The EMP Commission reports that: “China and Russia have considered limited nuclear-attack options that, unlike their Cold War plans, employ EMP as the primary or sole means of attack.” The report further warns that: “designs for variants of such weapons may have been illicitly trafficked for a quarter-century.”

During the Cold War, Russia designed an orbiting nuclear warhead resembling a satellite and peaceful space-launch vehicle called a Fractional Orbital Bombardment System. It would use a trajectory that does not approach the U.S. from the north, where our sensors and few modest ballistic-missile defenses are located, but rather from the south. The nuclear weapon would be detonated in orbit, perhaps during its first orbit, destroying much of the U.S. electric grid with a single explosion high above North America.

In 2004, the EMP Commission met with senior Russian military personnel who warned that Russian scientists had been recruited by North Korea to help develop its nuclear arsenal as well as EMP-attack capabilities. In December 2012, the North Koreans successfully orbited a satellite, the KSM-3, compatible with the size and weight of a small nuclear warhead. The trajectory of the KSM-3 had the characteristics for delivery of a surprise nuclear EMP attack against the U.S.

Opinion Video

Foundation for Defense of Democracies Chairman R. James Woolsey on the threat of an electromagnetic pulse that could bring American civilization to a halt. Photo credit: Getty Images.

What would a successful EMP attack look like? The EMP Commission, in 2008, estimated that within 12 months of a nationwide blackout, up to 90% of the U.S. population could possibly perish from starvation, disease and societal breakdown.

In 2009 the congressional Commission on the Strategic Posture of the United States, whose co-chairmen were former Secretaries of Defense William Perry and James Schlesinger, concurred with the findings of the EMP Commission and urged immediate action to protect the electric grid. Studies by the National Academy of Sciences, the Department of Energy, the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission and the National Intelligence Council reached similar conclusions.

What to do?

Surge arrestors, Faraday cages, and other devices that prevent EMP from damaging electronics, as well micro-grids that are inherently less susceptible to EMP, have been used by the Defense Department for more than 50 years to protect crucial military installations and strategic forces. These can be adapted to protect civilian infrastructure as well. The cost of protecting the national electric grid, according to a 2008 EMP Commission estimate, would be about $2 billion—roughly what the U.S. gives each year in foreign aid to Pakistan.

Last year President Obama signed an executive order to guard critical infrastructure against cyber attacks. But so far this administration doesn’t seem to grasp the urgency of the EMP threat. However, in a rare display of bipartisanship, Congress is addressing the threat. In June 2013, Rep. Trent Franks (R., Ariz.) and Rep. Yvette Clark (D., N.Y.) introduced the Secure High-voltage Infrastructure for Electricity from Lethal Damage, or Shield, Act. Unfortunately, the legislation is stalled in the House Energy and Commerce Committee.

In October 2013, Rep. Franks and Rep. Pete Sessions (R., Texas) introduced the Critical Infrastructure Protection Act. CIPA directs the Department of Homeland Security to adopt a new National Planning Scenario focused on federal, state and local emergency planning, training and resource allocation for survival and recovery from an EMP catastrophe. Yet this important legislation hasn’t come to a vote either.

What is lacking in Washington is a sense of urgency. Lawmakers and the administration need to move rapidly to build resilience into our electric grid and defend against an EMP attack that could deliver a devastating blow to the U.S. economy and the American people. Congress should pass and the president should sign into law the Shield Act and CIPA as soon as possible. Literally millions of American lives could depend on it.

Mr. Woolsey is chairman of the Foundation for Defense of Democracies and a former director of the CIA.Mr. Pry served on the EMP Commission, in the CIA, and is the author of “Electric Armageddon” (CreateSpace, 2013).