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An Affordable Strategy For Whole Home Backup Power

Predator 9500 InverterSince the crazy storm of May 16th took out power for much of Houston, there has been a lot of chatter about strategies for backup power. So much so that I posted to NextDoor to see what interest there might be in a seminar on the matter. My intent being to share our own experience and that of a few friends who have followed a similar path. The response was very strong, the thread resulting in over 160 comments in just a couple of days!

So, I guess I have to get busy crafting the presentation. While I do that, and for the very impatient, here is a list of related items I’ve written previously:

  1. Decisions: 2021 Household Projects – Describes our strategy for backup power and a new air conditioner.
  2. Connection Options for Backup Power – Details four ways so connect a portable generator to your home.
  3. Backup Power: 9kW-ish Portable Invertors – An overview of large, portable inverters in the 9 kW class.
  4. Central Air Conditioners: Variable-Speed vs Soft Start Kits – Considering how central AC can be run from a modest generator.
  5. How-To Geek: Be Careful Before Running Your Computer From a Gas Generator – Comparing a generator to an inverter.
  6. NYT on Household Energy Monitors – Using a cheap energy monitor to learn how much power our home uses, which informed our choice of generator.

It will take me some time to tie everything we’ve learned into a single (hopefully) coherent presentation. Given the level of interest, it will most likely be conducted as an online webinar. Details to follow as it progresses.

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Reminder: Auphonic is still a terrific audio tool!

Auphonic on Lenovo X-1-Carbon copyIt now seems half-a-lifetime ago that I used to commit an hour or two every Friday to join Randy Resnick’s VoIP Users Conference (VUC) calls. That long-running project developed a global community of like-minded geeks, addressing a broad range of technology topics.

If you’re not familiar, VUC was a live call-in podcast that ran from 2005 to 2018. There were around 800 episodes, with numerous guests from the far corners to the communications ecosystem.

It started on a service called Talkshoe, accessible via telephone and SIP. After interviewing ZipDX founder David Frankel (VUC381) about his (then) new project it transitioned to the ZipDX wideband conference platform. Sponsor Voxbone (now part of Bandwidth) was able to provide dial-in access numbers in dozens of countries. When Google introduced Hangouts, VUC naturally transitioned to that new video platform, but always maintained integration with the telephony realm.

One of the things the project required was post-processing of the recording each week, to ensure consistent sound level for all the various participants. In a podcast, dramatic changes in level from speaker-to-speaker is very jarring to the listener.

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Connection Options for Backup Power

A spate of recent storms over the past month has much of Houston once again thinking about strategies for backup power. The crazy derecho weather event on May 16th had parts of the city without power for up to 6 days. This particular event was our first time actually using the backup power strategy we put in place after Winter Storm Uri in 2021.

Unlike a hurricane, this storm was very short-lived. Largely a wind event, it raged past just after 6pm and was truly gone by 9pm. We were fortunate. Our pecan tree took a beating, but we only lost power for about 10 hours. Even before the rain stopped, I had the Predator 9500 invertor running, just as I had planned.

Predator 9500 Inverter Getting some exercise on a dry day in March

As detailed previously, the Predator 9500 inverter powers the entire house, including our 4T central air conditioner. So, we were comfortable overnight. Only in the morning did we see the carnage the storm wrought upon all the trees in the neighborhood.

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Color Me Intrigued: Base Power Company

I routinely listen to a handful of podcasts. One of the more recent adds to my routine is Doug Lewin’s Energy Capital Podcast. It’s a little on the civilized side for me, but Doug gets some very good guests. The last episode I heard featured Zach Dell, founder of Base Power Company. I must say that I am intrigued by what they are building. Most especially in the wake of last week’s derecho, which left parts of Houston without power for several days.

Base Power on X1 Carbon Gen12

Base Power Company is a retail electrical energy provider with a potentially novel twist. Their service has two aspects; a flat monthly cost for electrical service, and a 20 kWh home backup battery mated to an 11 kW inverter.

The battery is used to cache power from the grid. In the simplest case, providing whole home backup during an outage.

Further, the company uses the battery to arbitrage the spot rate for electricity. It charges the battery during periods when plentiful wind and solar generation pushes the spot rate for power very low. I’ve read that electricity is almost free when wind and solar is really delivering. When the rate climbs the home can draw on the battery to lower the cost of power.

During periods of peak load, when the spot rate is very high, the company can withdraw power from the battery, feeding it back into the grid. It’s basic “buy-low, sell-high” play that optimizes revenue while acting to balance the grid itself.

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Rewiring the Network Core: Part 2 – Beats, Wi-Fi & Brittle Cables

As was mentioned previously, I’ve been upgrading the network installation in the central hall of our home. The new vertical rack cabinet is now installed.

The paint job is a little splotchy. A contractor we had working for us the other day commented on the “neat cloud effect” I had achieved. I had to admit it wasn’t intentional, but it’ll do for now. It’s mostly hidden from view. At least the color is a good match for the wall.

Vertical Rack

As you can see, power is still being supplied by way of a pigtail out the bottom to a nearby outlet. That’s temporary. It will be replaced by a wire fished through the wall.

You can also see the holes in the floor where network cabled once passed from under the house. I need to get wooden plugs to fill those holes. The cables now run into the wall, onward to the patch bay in the cabinet.

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Rewiring the Network Core: The Tale of a Terrible Terminator

terminatorOccasionally I just have to face facts. There are some things that I don’t do well. That I will likely never do well. Terminating Ethernet cables is one of these things. It’s just not a skill that I’ve been able to develop. I suck at it. I find it frustrating. I try to avoid it. But it’s occasionally unavoidable. So, it’s nice to find something that reduces the frustration of my reality as a terrible Terminator.

We recently did some minor renovation in the central hallway in our home. It got a new attic access ladder in the ceiling and a fresh coat of paint, in a bright new color. Some nice new lights. It’s looking much improved.

The hall is where I have the household portion of my little network installation. Up against one wall there’s a small Ethernet patch panel and 24-port Ubiquiti POE+ switch, and a couple of small IoT hubs. Also, a 1RU UPS for safety.

I’d include a picture, but it’s not a pretty scene. Everything mounted to some prefinished white shelving, screwed flat to the wall, so it take up as little space as possible. It was only meant to be temporary.

I believe that anything that can connected via Ethernet should be connected via Ethernet. Wi-Fi is only for those things that don’t support Ethernet. Ethernet home runs from the various rooms & security cameras end up at the patch field in the hall. A couple of strands of Ethernet run underground in conduit to the garage apartment where they meet the main network core.

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