November 1, 2012

Power outages, a Prius, and perseverance.

Filed under: Uncategorized — michael @ 1:12 am

So… we lost power mid afternoon Monday.
And like the rest of the area, we got the same old status from PECO about getting power back late Sunday.
So I went into MacGyver mode.

First, I wired up an old UPS with dead battery to the Prius so we had at least some power. Yeah, it was kinda lame power, not strong enough to run the furnace blower, or much more than some lights and some portable gear chargers. But hey, it was much better than nothing. And all the real power inverters, and generators, etc. were sold out even if you could get somewhere with power to buy stuff.

In anticipation of making things suck less, I took the preliminary step of disconnecting the furnace from the dead house power, and wiring it to a 3 prong plug. And having gone out to buy the biggest reasonable UPS I could find (1500VA) I was saddened to discover that that couldn’t run the blower or the fridge either. So we weren’t in the dark, but we were in the cold zone. This morning we were fortunate enough to find friends who loaned us a “portable” generator. Which is “portable” in the same sense as the original Compaq Portable, Meaning that you better be pretty sturdy or you’re not getting that thing anywhere.

Some of my impressions upon first meeting this magnificently functional piece of hardware:
Wow this thing is big.
Wow this thing is heavy.
Boy this thing had better put out like the Dickens.
I wonder if it will be friends with me? 😉

Anyway, it was easy to get it up and running.
Some of my impressions upon first running this magnificently functional piece of hardware:
Wow this thing is loud.
Wow I had forgotten how much I disliked pouring from gas cans.
Yes it runs the furnace blower! Heat is good.
Yes it runs the refrigerator! Cold is good… in the right places.
But wait, why is the temperature sensor in the fridge jumping around?
And why doesn’t the furnace shut off?
And why does the UPS flip out when plugged in?

I would say it was the work of the evil “modified sine wave” But actually it might be a pure square wave for all I know. Anyway, that wreaks havoc on various electronics. Enter the fortunate timeliness of the Pep Boys restocking! I had just found a single decent power inverter after two days of scouring, but it was 3000 watts which is more than I would care to ask the Prius to sustain from its auxiliary feed. The prospect of tapping into the behemoth Prius “traction” battery was tantalizing but also terrifying (Yessir, those are quickly-dead voltages and currents we’re talking there) so I had tapped into the auxiliary battery flow instead, and from what I had read, that meant a practical limit of about a thousand watts sustained. With 3000 watts I was concerned I would turn the Prius from the world’s best generator to the world’s best DEAD generator, so I flinched and let it pass.

But later in the evening, I had a change of heart. Surprise surprise, when I went to buy, a different Pep Boys had the 1200 watt versions in stock! So, Halloween or no Halloween, procurement and installation were underway. It’s striking how small the inverter is compared to the generator (Yes I know, it’s not fair because the Prius is kinda large itself) And it fits in the trunk as though it were always meant to be. … inverter powerhouse sequence … What the heck do you mean “open ground”? Ah well, it’s working, let’s see what it can do. Yes it runs the furnace blower! So now we can be warm AND quiet at the same time! And look at that, the thermostat works properly, so we don’t have to play manual thermostat! And it will do the lights and charger while it’s doing the blower! But crud, it can’t run the fridge. More to come. Exercise for the reader: How do you solve the AC plug tester saying “open ground” ? Tune in next time to find out!

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