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  • Hilary Glann

Disaster Preparedness in an Electric Future

One of the major concerns that residents have about giving up their gas appliances is: What happens when the electricity goes out? With windstorms causing power outages and a reminder that, at any time, our natural gas and electric lines could be shut down due to a major earthquake, now is a good time to plan for emergency power solutions.

What Not to Do When the Lights Go Out

First of all, gasoline-powered generators are dangerous and unsustainable to use in your home. The danger comes from the risk of carbon monoxide poisoning if the genera-tor is used incorrectly. Gas generators are unsustainable because in a widespread power outage, gas stations will not have electric power to refill your gas can. There are a number of natural gas-powered generators on the market, with their own pros and cons: natural-gas-generators/

Secondly, remember that if the electricity is out, your gas-powered home furnace won’t work. It needs the fan to blow the hot air around and to prevent carbon monoxide from entering your living space. Your tankless gas water heater won’t work either, because it needs an electric spark. However, natural gas and electric water heaters with tanks, includ- ing heat pump water heaters, will provide hot water for a day or two, mostly depending on how meticulous you are about rationing the hot water. A heat pump water heater can last the longest because these water heaters can be super heated to up to 150 degrees, then mixed to 120 degrees upon exiting the tank.

Also remember that your carbon monoxide detector(s) won’t work unless they are battery-powered standalone. Note that new construction and many remodels in California and other states require the installation of modern wired-in detectors with battery back- up. Carbon monoxide is a silent and odorless danger, so using your gas-powered stove, grill, or oven to heat your home is a deadly idea. If you want to cook on your natural gas- powered stove, you won’t be able to run a fan or range hood, so be sure you have good ventilation to reduce both carbon monoxide risks and the lung-damaging nitrogen dioxide that is emitted indoors from your gas stove.

Safer Ways to Operate When the Electricity is Out

Take your cooking outside: Use your backyard barbecue or a camp stove to heat up your food. Keep an extra cannister/tank of propane on hand to ensure you have enough emergency fuel. This setup guarantees that you’ll have a way to cook food even if you have damage to your home that prevents you from using your kitchen.

This battered outdoor barbecue with 2 propane tanks is our emergency cooking solution. All photos by Hilary Glann except where indicated.

Invest in some low-tech solutions: Small power packs/power banks will keep your cell phone and other electronics working. These devices can cost as little as $20-$30.

The Feeke power bank can be charged via a wall outlet, and recharged by putting it in the sunshine. Photo from Amazon

Rechargeable flashlights stay plugged in until the power goes out, and then turn on so you can find them.

Luci lights from MPowered are great for camping and during power outages because they recharge using a solar panel. Some models can also recharge your cell phone.

An Energizer plug in emergency flashlight and a Luci solar camping light. Images from Amazon

Buy a portable “smart” power station, or a couple of them: I bought a 1 kilowatt

hour (KWh) Jackery power station for around $1000 that can power my fridge/freezer for at least 16 hours, or more if you don’t open your fridge very often. It can be recharged in an hour or so using a wall outlet; it can also be recharged using optional standalone solar panels, or the 12V cigarette lighter plug on a car, or your EV if it has a 120V outlet. Search on “portable power stations” to learn more about these new devices from a variety of companies.

Our 1 KWh home power station, fully charged and ready before a recent severe weather warning.

Buy an electric vehicle that allows you to use its electric battery for appliances: Electric vehicles are increasingly supporting the ability to power home appliances in case of emergency. Hyundai Ioniq 5, Kia EV, and Rivian trucks all support “vehicle to load,” in which the car offers one or two 120V outlets for running key appliances in an emergency, such as lights, refrigerator, internet, or critical home medical equipment. The Ioniq has an internal 120V 16 amp outlet between the two rear seats that can be used in any weather.

If you purchase an optional converter, you create a second power outlet using your Ioniq’s charging port. The car can supply up to 3,600 watts of power via the two ports; the car’s battery capacity is 77.4 KWh.

Using this 120V outlet in the Ioniq, we can either run an extension cord to our home, or we can plug our portable power station into this outlet to recharge it.

This optional converter plugs into the car's charging port, creating a second 120V outlet supporting 15 amp appliances. It should not be used unsheltered in wet weather.

The Nissan Leaf, Mitsubishi Outlander electric-gas hybrid, Ford F-150 Lightning, and VW ID4 all support bi-directional charging— the ability to power your home using the EV’s battery. GM, Ford, and Hyundai are currently conducting bi-directional charging pilots.

Install a home battery backup system: Even if you don’t (yet) have an electric car, you can install solar panels and home batteries that can keep key parts of your home functioning during a power outage. The Federal Residen- tial Clean Energy credit enables households that install solar and residential battery stor- age to deduct 30 percent of the cost of the project from their taxes. If your home isn’t suitable for solar, you can still buy the home

10KWh battery wall. Photo by Rich Elder

battery and use the grid to keep it charged for emergencies. Energy Sage is a helpful site for both information and contractor referrals: whole-home-backup/

Reducing our use of natural gas in our homes

will save us money over the mid to long term, and will also improve our health and safety. So, take the time now to make a plan for staying safe during a power outage using available, and increasingly affordable, backup batteries.


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