05 November 2012

Closing out Phase 1-3

Phase 1-3 of preparing for disaster has meant getting the basics done and then augmenting on that base to get longer term capabilities in place for larger scale problems.  The very basics I've outlined previously under my DIY posts and you have to go back to my oldest posts to find the first Phases.  The first 3 Phases are yourself, your everyday transportation and home, and of those getting the last (which is where you live) set up for survival is one of the most time consuming.

As I've outlined, at home you have two generalized choices, of either making home an intermediate place (a supply and then final bug out point) or to start laying in necessities for longer term survival.  Survival for this means something major like electrical grid collapse, economic collapse and even factoring in EMP effects from a nuclear device or the similar (though somewhat different problems) of a CME.  I cannot weigh and judge the possibilities of these things for you, but as Hurricane Sandy demonstrates: disaster preparedness is not an idle topic.

My general thoughts for my situation I've laid out before and it starts with median term survival in situ to ride out the worst of disasters: being far enough inland means that hurricane force winds are blunted by 30+ miles of worn-ridge terrain, and those ridge lines also serve as natural barriers against movement from the metro area to the post-suburbia areas.  Being in outer suburbia is not ideal, but no where is really ideal for a disaster if you are getting one handed to you.  If the power grid collapses (taking with it, say, central water and natural gas systems) then you have a full scale collapse of the infrastructure of civilization, which is to say you also don't get much time until sewage backs up and you have disease and pests to deal with.  After that having potable water is a critical factor for how long you can stay in one place, and then comes food.  To offset these things a reliable power supply that is not grid-tied nor dependent on scarce consumables (read gasoline, diesel, liquid natural gas, propane) limits energy choices to solar, water or wind.  These are not optimal power solutions as they require a static or semi-mobile gathering system (wind and water power for the first, and solar for both categories).  With even a few hundred watt hours per day, you can do a lot if you scale your capabilities to your power supply.  In a disaster you also have opportunities to clear out problems for gathering power (cutting down trees, putting in paths, erecting poles for wind turbines or scaffolding across a river for a micro-hydro generator) that you normally wouldn't have with a government bureaucracy in place.  Survival is its own license and wisdom requires forethought so that you have as little impact on the natural resources around you so that you can have better access to the vital ones.

Thus, down this logic pathway, critical needs for long term use of home as a place to survive means having power and having artificially chilled storage space for keeping medical supplies and even freezing items to be kept until needed.  To reduce overhead for power use means that you either go small (that is small devices that don't take up much power) or go with larger, but well designed and low power devices (usually with large amounts of insulation).  In my prior article of Riding out Sandy, I outlined what I got done before the storm came.  The equipment that I had gotten all has long lead-times to them, and the 6-8 weeks got dragged out for all of it and instead of having staged deliveries of having one set of devices arrive for full set-up and test over a couple of weeks and then another set a couple of weeks after that, it all arrived on the same week.  I didn't know Sandy was coming, I just felt that all of this stuff had to be basically up and operational before winter arrived, which has meant stalling out every other project and getting this stuff done.

I worked to just get the two Sunfrost units on their bases (which I needed to shim up and the company that makes them didn't put adjustable feet on the cabinets).  Due to the circumstances of trying to get shims put in, the SUNRNR units arrived before I could get the refrigerator and freezer tested out.  Plus I had to put some additional bracing into the bulk shelving unit I got for the SUNRNR units, which meant that for a few weeks it was hard to navigate through the main floor due to the amount of stuff in boxes that was strewn around.  We also got the bed replaced during all of this.  Yet more time taken from getting things done...

With that said the Sunfrost units came first and with two scissors jacks and a couple of pieces of shim stock white wood about 1/8" thick, I got the units shimmed up and they tested out just fine:


The doors open from the center (just a real tight fit for the fingers) and the bottom cabinets have sturdy drawers, and the cabinets are made from 3/4" ply, meaning they can take the weight of the things.  I do want to put some wood in back of them to help put a bit of rearward stability to the arrangement, either some 1/2" plywood sheets or at least a 2x10.  There are no tops to the units and the compressors are on top, and airflow is vital to cooling so you can't really put anything up there beyond perforated sheeting and nothing that would block airflow (i.e. no boxes or sheets of stuff).  If these were going to be built-in units... no, scratch that, if I had though ahead I would get the kitchen remodeled to put in the Sunfrost units as built-in units so that they could have some upper shelving (and yet open air flow behind) along with cabinets on the bottom, all built into the studs of the kitchen.  And if I did that then I would also make proper cabinetry next to them for the SUNRNR units so that they don't look like this:


I just love rivet shelving!  It is unsightly, makes you feel like you are in a warehouse and otherwise just looks purely functional with no frills attached.  If this was all built-in then all of what sits there would be behind doors and look all spiffy and professional.

The SUNRNRs are currently not attached to the solar panels, because I don't have a pass-through for the cabling yet.  During Sandy I ran them through the sliding door and used plastic sheeting to keep out water and the worst of the wind, but that did nothing for humidity and the heat escaping through the sheeting.  SUNRNR uses Anderson style plugs (like are seen with many winches) for the panels and the next grade up of those for the cross-link cable.  These units do not use the standard MC-4 style plugs used in most of the solar industry, thus when you think ahead on how you are going to use these, put that into the planning bin.  For the input side there are 2 sets of receptacles per unit for solar and wind/aux of regulated 12v DC input, and 2 of the larger receptacles so that SUNRNR units can be diasychained together to share battery power.  This is important as when you have different outlets for AC use (above are 110v and 240v units) they can draw from the batteries of the entire array for power.  SUNRNR also makes a dedicated well-pump power unit and a battery unit just to help back the output units.  If you need a mixed mode power gathering capability and have the resources available for wind and/or micro-hydro units, then a SUNRNR can help to serve as the main systems for storage of power.

Now going from the kitchen to the deck door, you get this:


That is the back of the solar array, which are 4 Kyocera 140 units that went through SUNRNR which helpfully hinges them together 2 at a time and changes them from MC-4 to Anderson cable.  The wooden lumber is exterior rated 6x6, previously used at another place in the complex for deck support and replaced during renovations back when all the equipment was arriving and just left out for anyone to take.  Providence was, obviously, doing something there and I took the hint and here they are.  I had cinderblocks I intended to use for another project that now serve as ballast and a few bricks to help lift the forward and lowest panels up a few inches.  The rail mounts, tilt legs and feet are from DPW via a reseller.


This is in no way 'permanent' construction, just bolted on to ballast.  Those thick black cables are the Anderson plug cables and they are rugged.


These upper panels are the workhorses in the array since they are up high enough to get direct sunlight for half the day.


The lower panels are in the shade of the railing and nearby trees, and gather very little power.  Only some of that can be remedied by work on the tree on our property, the rest is from trees on common land.


Next year the reseller for the SUNRNR units plans on having mobile platforms for the dual panels that will be a ballast/tray system.  As two sub-arrays set far back from the fence and trees, both sets of panels will gather more energy... but that is for next year.

During the most direct parts of sunlight I'm getting about 10 amps between the two panels at 12v DC, which is a bit less than 25% of the power the entire array should be able to put out.  I knew that going in, however, and waited for a 2 for 1 deal on the panels.  With 4-5 hours a day (on good days) of direct sunlight, there is enough to cover the Sunfrost units.  To minimize power use, turn off the AC output during the day and only run the refrigerator and freezer at night, then minimize opening the units.

As the Sunfrost freezer is not 'frost free' (that is it doesn't cycle warmer air in to remove frost and then exhaust it out) so you do have to keep an eye on frost build up.  The unit is made so you can shut down just one compartment, however, so you can muck out one while keeping the other frosty.  Or if you only need half the space, you have storage space by shutting the other unit off.  I did a continuous 2-day draw with the Sunfrosts from the SUNRNR units which started out in the 3/4 capacity stage and were at 1/2 capacity storage for power at the end of it.  That was with intense overcast (barely 5 amps peak, total) which meant that there wasn't much coming in to replace what was going out.  With the AC output turned off, the two units spent one day with very little sun (about 2 hours where the sun peaked out on and off) and was getting 7-8 amps for 3 hours which recharged both units to 3/4 capacity.  Actually, that is pretty impressive, when you get right down to it.

After this comes system hardening: getting EMP shields in place for vital equipment (SUNRNR units, the Sunfrosts I already have a mesh base which they sit on, and the other refrigerators and freezers), seeing if there are better solutions for protecting/hardening the sliding doors and windows (against hail and such), and then looking at rainwater collection/purification along with better waste disposal plans (all of which are at the 'rough and ready' stage but not at all pleasant).  With a constant source of power available, however, much can be done.  Once a pass-through for the cables are put in, then the Sunfrost units go off-grid.

Phase 4 also begins next year: getting mobile and survivable.

Remember, one step at a time and over a year you can go from very little to a much more solid feel for what you need to survive.  Better to have and not need, than need and not have.

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