20 June 2007
SETI League
PriUPS Project

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A Busy Day in PriUPS Land

You may have noticed how cheerful I am whenever we have a power failure.  Of course this is an artifact of my obsession with using my Prius to substitute for the local power company or even the national grid should it be necessary.

Today Was Different

At around 13:00 a symphony of beepage notified me that there had been a power failure.  Since I was home at the time, I unlimbered my mental checklist and immediately performed Step 1, which is to turn off the special 230V UPS so that its battery would remain fully charged in case I needed it to restart the main UPS.  If you remembered this checklist item, good work!

Step 2 was not to connect the Prius to the house.  There was plenty of time for that since most power failures are brief and all the UPS units were fully charged.  Instead, it was to call the power company, report the problem, and see if I could get any useful information in return.  Normally this is futile:  The power company is aware, they "have crews on the scene," and they're much too busy to talk to me since they have hundreds of others calling.  Not this time!  When I gave them my location, they said the failure was right on my street and people were on the way.  I went for a walk.

I came back from the walk a minute later and immediately connected the Prius.  Here's why.

Photo of tree that fell on a power line My leafy, somnolent, street was experiencing a few extra leaves.  This is a big tree!  (Well, was a big tree, as you'll see later.)
Photo of snapped power pole caused by fallen tree That was only part of the problem.  When the tree fell on the wires, it broke the high voltage wire, which was now lying in the grass.  And it pulled so hard on the electric pole to its left that the pole literally snapped.  You can see the bottom more or less vertical and the top bent to the right. 
Photo of tree snapped at base Speaking of snapping!  The base of the fallen tree split apart.  I found this most mysterious because the day was beautiful with at most a mild breeze.  We're used to trees falling over when the ground is wet after heavy rains followed by wind.  Neither obtained this day on the cusp of summer.
Photo of three power company trucks responding to downed line incident Our Heroes Of American Power make it to the scene.  This was a three-truck job.
Photo of power company workers installing transformer on pole As the afternoon wore on, they installed a new pole to replace the snapped one, moved the transformer to the new pole and eventually restored power to my street. 
The tree is mightier than the pole, but no match for the chainsaw The tree is mightier than the pole, but no match for the chainsaw.

I turned on the camera's time stamp (and neglected to set the year to 2007) to give an idea of how long this all took.  Power was restored about an hour after the last photo.  The Prius system worked perfectly.  The computers worked continuously and no ice cream melted during the incident.  I took advantage of the lack of air conditioning to enjoy some back-yard sunshine.  I had a nice lazy day, stayed home from work, basked in admiration for my forethought in setting up the system, and calculated just how much gas the Prius had used to provide power during this longish outage.  Normally I can't approximate this too well because outages are short, but this was long enough that I was able to make a reasonable approximation.  The answer was about .6 gallons.  And, as we know, the Prius emits smug instead of smog, so I was pretty content.

Until Midnight

At which time we had another power failure!  Enough already! 

I called the power company again.  This time it was a much larger area, no reason given, "crews are on the scene."  This time I wasn't going to delay.  The UPS batteries only had a few hours to recharge since the last failure, so I wanted to get the Prius connected right away. 

PriUPS instrumentation graph of power failure

Here's the data from my instrumentation.  Click on it for a full-size, easier-to-read version.  Note that in previous power failures, the UPS battery (yellow) starts out at about 265 volts and quickly drops to 250V, after which it begins discharging normally while powering the house.  In this case it had only a partial charge, and dropped to 240V before supplying power.  That's why I was eager to connect the Prius right away.  It turned out to be unnecessary since no power was drawn from the hybrid system until about a half hour into the failure.

Why have I emitted a minor whine about the second power failure?  Confession:  I was in bed, reading, and hoping to "sleep" a bit later.  So not only was this plan interrupted, you just know that with all this activity in PriUPS Land, nothing would do but that I stay up and write this blogitem to document it.

I'm done now.  I'll proofread it in the morning.  Good night.

NP:  "Time Won't Tell" - Joan Osborne

Richard Factor

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