Y2K Homestretch

And so it begins.

You know how it always seems as if folks wait until the last minute to get things done? We all do it. Heck, Iím as guilty as anyone on that score. The hubbub surrounding the Y2K "problem" is not about a concern that it canít be solved but rather that we are waiting to the last minute to get around to it.

So Iím not the least bit surprised that, not long after the stroke of midnight this past New Yearís Eve, I started to get more interest, via my website, e-mail, and phone, from folks looking to protect their power supplies from Y2K.

So far Iíve had a pretty good cross-section of interests. Some people want to move to the mountains, buy a house and attach "solar energy" to it, without really understanding what it means. Others are looking to have some kind of fallback system for emergencies and realize they canít provide for all their current usage with alternative energy. And there are a few people who are simply using this as an incentive to finally get around to installing that alternative energy system theyíve always wanted.

I suppose if I wanted to take advantage of the uncertainty caused by Y2K I could advertise "Y2K Specials" and promote the heck out of solar as a "solution" to the coming chaos. But I just canít do it. I do understand the feelings of those who call, completely unprepared, and want to attach some kind of system to an existing house in the hope that it will "protect" them.

I have talked at length on the phone with some folks and finally just suggested they purchase a good reliable generator and have plenty of fuel on hand. It would be a disservice to delude them into spending thousands of dollars on a system they arenít really prepared to use correctly or even to understand.

On the other hand, the folks who are looking for an emergency power system as a backup for short-term power outages (a few hours to a few days) have a better chance of spending their money wisely and not regretting it later.

It is entirely possible for someone to put in a medium sized inverter and a bank of batteries as a backup system. They can then use the grid to keep the batteries charged, using the charger portion of their inverter, and switch key circuits in their home over to the inverter should the power fail. If the outage lasts more than a day or so, a generator can then be used to keep the batteries charged until the power comes back on.

With this kind of system you have the availability of 120vac power without having to have the generator running all the time to provide it. (Your neighbors will especially appreciate this feature at around 2am) Such a system does not have to cost more than $3,000 or $4,000 and can serve as a good building block for a larger alternative energy system, if one is desired in the future.

A few safety precautions need to be taken with this kind of installation. The inverter needs to be isolated from the grid system with a switch that can disconnect the house from the grid. This will keep power from the inverter from feeding back into the grid and endangering anyone working on the system.

It is also advisable to connect only certain key circuits to the inverter to avoid draining the batteries too quickly or exceeding the capacity of the inverter. For example, connecting some lighting and the blower for the heating system (electric heat is out of the question) will keep the home warm and lighted without overly taxing the inverter/battery system. A freezer and refrigerator can always be powered periodically by a generator and not opened more than necessary. Since the Y2K problem (if it happens at all) will hit during January you might consider moving your freezer to a protected outdoor location (an unheated garage, for example) and letting the cold weather do the work for you.

The timing may not be as advantageous for those folks who are finally being nudged into building a system they have always wanted. People who are trying to build a system now will find themselves competing with those whose only motivation is Y2K and will pay any price for "peace of mind". Because of the interest in Y2K, some system components may not be available and the prices of others may be artificially inflated. Waiting until after the "crisis" is over may afford more opportunities for good pricing and availability.

All Contents © 1999
Wagonmaker Press
Thomas W. Elliot


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