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Extreme weather shows the value of investing in home power generation - Anchorage Daily News

By Art Nash

Updated: 1 day ago Published: 1 day ago

A solar panel provides power to Dan and Fulvia Lowe's off-grid home on the Anchorage hillside on Oct. 23, 2013. (Loren Holmes / ADN)

Growing up for part of my youth in a family-owned tourist ranch that maintained nine mountain cabins on the Front Range of Colorado, we maintained woodstoves or stone fireplaces in most, which could be a backup heat source in case the wicked winter and spring winds roiling down the canyon took out one of the chattering utility lines which often whipped against each other on overhead creosote poles. And while I had to occasionally help repair frozen water lines and replace copper runs or soldered joints, our pipe problems weren’t from what may be becoming the latest home insurance plague nailing “energy” states like Texas, Alaska and even Colorado.

In early 2021, rolling blackouts and natural gas cutoffs through the Lone Star state were required to keep the entire electrical grid from crashing. Yet this triage action contributed to many homeowners temporarily abandoning their homes when the interior temperature fell — and often without turning off the pressurized municipal water supply just before exiting. When above freezing temps returned without occupants, burst pipes caused subsequent home flood damage in many residential areas. Evacuated homes in Colorado this past week have been cut off from their heating source, natural gas (so as not to exacerbate sweeping wildfires). With their temperatures dipping into single digits — only to have above freezing temperatures on deck for this week, there is a strong fear that burst pipes may flood scores of homes.

And now this week in the Interior, Kenai and Southcentral Alaska, wild winds and dropping temperatures with blackouts have been caused by wind and falling trees taking out utility lines and infrastructure. Whenever there has been uncertainty on the timing of restoring winter electrical service, the primary concern I hear is of pipe integrity and possible water damage due to a lack of space heating and electricity for heat trace during freezing periods. Truly and ironically, the main need of having power restored to evacuated homes and businesses often has to do with avoiding resulting moisture issues.

There are solutions. One is to increase the amount of prosumers (producer-consumers); these are ordinary residents who produce as well as consume electricity, whether by combusting fossil fuels or via renewable means. Net metering, in cases where there is decent parity for a person who creates some amount of electricity often through solar, wind, wood burning or micro-hydro to sell it back to the local utility can incentivize homeowners to be prosumers. Battery storage that is cheaper and has a smaller footprint with some of the newer generation of 12-volt batteries and power walls can enable people to store excess energy they create (or even take off the utility grid during downtime). And the most time-expedient case of having a solar or gasoline generator on hand can immediately fit the needs for 110- or 220-volt appliances, pumps and heaters will certainly work when sized right. Finally, reducing demand for power through curtailing use via conservation methods often works well.

Any of these solutions takes a bit of financial investment, gaining a new knowledge set for most, and also the avoided idea of redundancy for many minimalists. In other words, it will take money, time and specialized equipment that may be idle for much of the year. Yet considering what is at stake for what is most likely your No. 1 investment (your home), all three cost sinks are worth it in the long run.

Energy specialist Art Nash instructs public blackout backup and remote energy workshops statewide. He lives in Fairbanks.

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