Thursday, 8 March 2018

Power Outage Backups


I have the bad fortune to live in a house that is all-electric, so I do not have the option of switching from mains gas to mains electric, or vice-versa, in the case of an emergency. That being so I have had to go down the camping gas route as my main power outage backup.

The single burner camping stove pictured above is available under many different names, which are probably all made by the same factory in China. It costs less than £20 and uses the CP250 gas canisters that are available at most camping and motoring shops. It comes with its own plastic case and along with half a dozen gas canisters, space has been found for this cooking backup in my emergency pantry.

Small camping heaters that also use the CP250 gas canisters are also readily available for about the same price as the stove, and one of them is on my list to purchase before the end of 2018. We had no power outages this year, but a lot of people did, so items like this strike me as essential elements of a getting by strategy.

Let's be honest, at my age and in my lousy health, any time spent cooking with this stove and getting what heat I can from that heater is going to be a very miserable time indeed. That said, I will be able to heat some hot food and keep one room slightly above freezing, at least until the last gas canister runs out.


My backup for the backup, as it were, is an Esbit solid fuel stove, the simplest version of which retails for under £10.00. This gadget has been standard British army issue for very many years now and it is not much bigger than a packet of cigarettes. It opens up to create legs for the stove to stand on and a holder for a pan to rest. Solid fuel tablets are placed in the unit's base and lit with a match. If it works for the British army then it should work for the likes of me in a real, dire emergency.

Lighting will come from a rechargeable lantern until its charge dies, and then candles, of which I have a goodly stock.

Traditionally, my family kept paraffin in the house since my father was a keen gardener and had a paraffin heater in his greenhouse. When Britain had the power outages in the early to mid-1970s my mother dug out the oil lamp that she had in storage along with the heads of a few more that she had stuck in a drawer when the lamps had got broken. She then washed out some old jam jars to use as reservoirs. I was asked to go to the local ironmonger's on my way home from work to see if he still had any glass chimneys in stock and I remember coming home with half a dozen of them.

By the time the first power cut hit, our house could be illuminated as if we still had electricity, all thanks to my dad's love of gardening and my mother's refusal to throw anything out. Meanwhile, neighbours were reduced to hunting further and further afield for candles, which quickly sold out in the few shops that stocked them.

Today I do not have a garden and I do not feel that I can justify a gallon or so of paraffin in my house on the off-chance that it will be needed to light the property one day. If I could afford it I would install solar panels that connected to a set of marine batteries that would then give out 240 volts via a power inverter, but I cannot afford that expense, either.

Like most responsible people I cut my cloth according to my purse, and my purse can run to enough candles to keep some light in the house until the power is restored.

My mobile 'phone can be charged with a large power bank, with the bank and the lantern then being recharged in the car, using the mobile 'phone charger that I have in the vehicle which plugs into the cigarette lighter socket.  This assumes that I can get to the car, of course, and if the crisis involves large amounts of snow that may not be an option for someone who can barely walk at the best of times. That said, given that the mobile 'phone towers need electricity to work and that the backup generators need refuelling, a fully charged mobile 'phone may not be top of my agenda in a major blackout.

Luckily, even though today's landline telephones need electricity to work, I have a simple, old-fashioned telephone that only needs to be plugged in to make and receive calls. It sits in a box as part of my emergency stash, patiently waiting its turn to be used should the need arise.


The sad thing about all of this is that much of it is so very avoidable. Big cities in the UK rarely have power outages, but given that Britain only has a twenty days reserve of natural gas and many of the power stations are fueled by gas that may not be the case in the future. By way of contrast, the USA has a six-month supply of gas in its strategic reserve, but the British seem to think that twenty days is enough.

Of course, the country still has some coal-fired power stations and there are millions of tons of coal beneath our feet, but the European Union insists on countries ceasing to use coal-fired stations and even after we are free of that body it is unlikely that coal will restart this side of a major national catastrophe that leaves the country in darkness for quite some time.

So, we plan for future events based on the situation as it exists at the moment, not on how we would wish the country to be. Indeed, part of the reason why we make preparations for a potential crisis is that the country is not run as we want it to be and that fact frightens us a great deal.

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