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Old 12-11-15, 07:23 AM   #1
stevehull
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Default ice storm, generators and lessons learned

Been off line for almost a week as a big ice storm caused a lot of disruption here in central Oklahoma.

I was prepared, but I thought I would share a few triumphs and also lessons learned . . .

Understand that I have a livestock farm and livestock MUST have water. I do have ponds, but a well known danger is that cattle can get stuck in muck, or fall through ice in winter. I have several large chest freezers for frozen beef, which we sell from the farm, and those must keep going. My power need at a minimum is about 6 kW as it takes a significant kick to start the deep water well pump on. Once started it just needs a kW or so. A small generator (2-4 kW) is simply not big enough.

Last spring/summer I got REAL good advice from this forum on using large "hooded" connectors, which expensive, proved invaluable. I had been using "suicide" cords with double male ends and I owe a thanks to Jeff to use that term (suicide cord) to alert me to the dangers.

Anyway, I have a battery start 8 kW, gas generator (internal combustion engine + generator) and a power take off (PTO) 15 kW generator available. Two tractors with PTO shafts; a 30 HP "my little" tractor with a 7 gallon diesel tank and my "big" 80 HP tractor with a 20 gallon diesel tank.

I put an app on my smart phone that allows me to see the electric utility "map" of outages as I knew that my internet service would likely also be down (we have a microwave internet system).

We are absolutely the last customer at the end of our coop electric utility. That means that any disruption ahead of us drops our power. We have not had any prolonged outages, but I knew that sooner or later we would get hit - and hard.

The ice storm was not terrible, but it caused a lot of car accidents that brought power poles along the road down - and that was our problem. Then as poles were replaced, they were replaced closest to the substation first.

As the storm progressed, I had that sinking feeling and got all ready. I moved the 8 kW gas generator out of the shop, got the power cord ready, checked oil, topped off the gas and fired it up. Started like a champ. Got two more 5 gallon "Jerry" cans of gasoline and also topped off the cars and truck with full tanks of gasoline. (Note no mention of a gas siphon here . . . .)

I also put the 15 kW generator on the big tractor and wrestled with the PTO shaft and all. I topped off the diesel tank, started the tractor and found the throttle position where about 60 Hz was. I use big 55 gallon diesel drums of fuel so I put my diesel "Jerry" cans next to the diesel tanks. The fuel tanks use a hand crank pump to transfer fuel into the cans - or I can simply put the diesel fuel nozzle into the diesel tractor tank and fill that way. All this took every bit of the afternoon and frankly took me far longer than I thought it would.

I thought I was ready (and that actually alarmed me . . .)

Lights flickered and went down. The utility update on my iPhone showed only small parts of the utility down, but it was rapidly getting worse by the minute. So I threw the transfer switch to isolate us from the utility, turned off the main breaker in barn, guest house and farm house and started up the 8 kW gas generator. Now I went panel to panel, only turning on those things that I needed. Damn! Why hadn't I put a red dollop of paint next to each essential breaker? I could have done that before . . . OK, water pump on, freezers on and kitchen power on.

Three hours later and the gas generator is out of gas - refill it, get all started again and see that the outages are just getting worse. Refill the gas generator and very soon go through all my stored fuel in the Jerry cans. OK - where is the siphon to get fuel from cars and trucks (none to be found). Time to hook up the big tractor.

A rule of thumb is that 1 HP = about 1 kW of power, so my 80 HP tractor was WAY large to supply the 15 kW generator. But this tractor had a BIG fuel tank so it seemed appropriate (note the word seemed) to use the big tractor.

I got that hooked up and going, turning off the "little" gas generator first. Go back, turn off all breakers and then after power on, go back and turn all on. All was well and we could actually use the geothermal heat pumps. I checked the diesel fuel level and all seemed good. It went all night before getting low. Now I was shlepping 6 gallon Jerry cans of diesel from the storage area up to the tractor (~ 100 yards and up hill too!). Don't want to drive the big tractor down to the storage area as that means disconnecting all. Should have pre positioned the diesel fuel drums closer to the transfer switch location . . .

Couple days later and shlepping diesel from storage to tractor is getting really, really old. Am using the "little tractor" and putting the diesel Jerry cans in the bucket. Two full trips to refill 20 gallons of diesel. I is a pain to hold the heavy 6 gallon diesel transfer can up to fill the big tractor. Diesel is spilling on the ground and there will be a big dead spot in the lawn next summer.

The big tractor is too big and a lot of fuel is simply used keeping the engine going. Transfer the PTO to the "little tractor" with the small 7 gallon tank. Refilling this is tougher as the fill spout is on top of the hood and lifting diesel fuel tanks higher is getting old. But the fuel economy is better and I still have to refill every 10 hours with 6-7 gallons, but not 20.

I could really tell when the water well kicked on. With the big tractor, there was just a flicker, but with the smaller tractor (less mass momentum), there was a more distinct power drop. Probably not good for electrical appliances . . .

Now for the dumb part. We probably had grid power back on for 12 hours before I knew it. I can't see neighbors so I can't tell if they have power.

Lesson learned. Put a 55 gallon diesel drum CLOSER to place where tractor generator hook up is. Even better would be to have it elevated so that gravity could supply tractor tank . . .

Another lesson. This is tough. Can I do this in my "older" years? Am eligible for Social security now, but what about doing all this in mid 70's (or later). No way . . .

I have concluded that spending some cash on an fixed 10 kW propane fired "Generac" or equivalent, might be a very good investment. The prices for these are way down and they kick on within a minute of a power outage and also throw the transfer switch automatically. They use about several gallons of propane per hour so you can go through a LOT of propane over several days. My propane tank (currently 250 gallon) would have to be a larger one, but that is no big deal. I am looking for a used "Generac" or equivalent unit right now (hard to find).

Last kick in the ***. I ran out of diesel in the small tractor. Have only done this once before (in twenty+ years) and you have to loosen all injectors, re prime the system and then tighten all back up. A knuckle buster of a job in the daytime and in warm weather. At night, in the dark and in the cold just sucked. Lesson relearned - do NOT run out of diesel fuel. Yes, I slept through the alarm . . . .

Major lesson PRE POSITION FUEL.

Second major lesson - this is TOUGH. My wife was able to go to work, but keeping power up was a constant job.

All in all we were out of power for almost five days. I now need to do oil change and filters on gas generator and dig up diesel soaked dirt (before the diesel spreads).

Hope some of these lessons, plus and minus, are applicable to you. Few of you are as rural as I am. But the fuel issues are very applicable to all. I really thought I was smart to have the big diesel drums. It was, but I had not thought of the difficulties transferring the fuel . . .

But some good news. The spare guest house put up an "elderly" couple (actually not much older than we are) that live nearby, their kids and their grandchildren (9 people in that house, but it was warm, had water and TV for the kids.

The internet just came back up yesterday as the microwave repeaters were down. It is just so nice to have power!!


Steve

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Old 12-11-15, 08:17 AM   #2
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Hmm sounds like you learned a lot of things. And it sounds like an auto start gen would be a good fit for you especially since you ran on generator for an extra 12 hours :/

But thanks for sharing
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Old 12-12-15, 09:15 AM   #3
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This is another lesson learned the hard way. They are usually the best teachers. Just think how hard it was for the early American settlers! All they had at their disposal was wood and windmills. And a WHOLE lot of elbow grease and discomfort. It's good to live in the modern world.

Now would be the best time to take notes on the experience. Jotting down all the pros and cons of the operation as it sits will be easy since the memories are still fresh. This will serve as a reference in the future so you won't forget the little things that add up quick in labor hours. Planning for similar future events and preparing for the possibilities will definitely save your back if it ever happens again.

Your situation seems to be more than a "hobby survival" type of scenario. As such, more careful planning will pay off in droves. With the multiple systems in play, a more detailed power management plan would seem to be of great benefit. Defining critical needs vs. nonessential luxury and frill, as well as raw demands and time of use/duty cycle of intermittent systems could end up saving you a whole lot of fuel. From what you have posted, there are many things that could be done to either level your load or just plain conserve fuel and demand.
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Old 12-12-15, 03:36 PM   #4
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Steve, I feel for you! I bet you were more prepared than many. Also, sounds like you were doing all the work! Most people don't realize how much fuel generators go through plus how much fuel you have to keep on hand,and properly storing it if you don't use it. My experience with diesel generators is you can get better economy with less load, vs gas and propane they tend to use about the same fuel no matter 1/2 or full load. In this area we use a lot of cisterns above ground to help well pump run and recovery time, or power outage. Depending on the amount of cattle maybe a 330 gallon ibc tote could have saved some pumping. Depending on the location of your freezers, maybe they wouldn't run as much when its cold. Even though in this country we can pretty much count on our utilities +99% of the year, our grid could fall apart after a few minor failures (2003 Northeastern blackout, 1996 Northwest, 2011 Texas, 1989 Quebec from solar flares). Obviously with your ranch you have a lot to gain from being prepared and a lot on the line if you're not. Most people's attention spans aren't long enough to stay prepared for something that only happens once every couple of years. I never worried much about emergency plans until becoming a father, now its my responsibility.
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Old 12-12-15, 07:40 PM   #5
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Quote:
Originally Posted by gtojohn View Post
Most people don't realize how much fuel generators go through plus how much fuel you have to keep on hand, and properly storing it if you don't use it.
I do, but I learned that from my own experience.
2004 Hurricane Frances = 6 days with no power + 4 more days on borrowed generator
2004 Hurricane Jeanne (3 weeks later) = 7 days with (my brand new) gas generator
2005 Hurricane Wilma = do we have to do this every year??

The 23 gallons of gas I used to store in the (trailered) boat fuel tank, plus the collection of 5 gallon gas and diesel cans I had collected over the years STILL wouldn't last me 10 days running the generator... The new boat with the 90 gallon tank is getting close though.

Meanwhile, I'm still trying to use up the mere 15 gallons of REC90 (Ethanol free gasoline) I bought in late August 2015 when it looked like we were going to get a hurricane. My daily driver cars are both diesel. It wasn't difficult to use the 5 extra gallons of diesel I bought for hurricane prep this summer.

Even with a 4.4kW PV array on the roof, and I'm still in the dark when the grid goes down.
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Old 12-12-15, 09:58 PM   #6
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A few years ago when we had a rare ice storm here, went thru over 100 gallons of 'strategic reserve' gasoline.
Suburban area, but all gas stations down also, none had emergency power!

I had relatives from 15 mi away drive over to get 10 gal of gas at a time, AND to top off their cars. 6 different cars can go thru 100 gal of gas real quick, not to mention the small generators.

Now I keep 150 gal of gasoline and 70 gal of diesel in sealed bbls in a concrete shed with concrete curbs in case of any leaks. Probably never need it now ?
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Old 12-13-15, 08:15 AM   #7
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A few updates and clarifications . . .

First, cattle drink a LOT of water. A 330 cut off IBC tote of water might last 12 hours - probably less. Secondly, we have a cold winter here and a hot summer, so warm water in winter and cool in summer helps the steers drink water and result in far fewer health issues.

We use the output of the "pump and dump" (open loop) geothermal heat pump (houses) to supply six watering stations out in the pastures. And small water tanks (50 gallons each) so the water is always fresh and heated/cooled appropriate for the season. The colder (or hotter) it is, the more the geo heat pump is on, and the greater the fresh thermally conditioned water.

Ruminants actually need FAR more water in winter as the dry hay (~5-7% moisture) has to be completely rehydrated before digestion. Compare that with summer grass with 70%+ water content. In winter, cattle will only drink cold water when they absolutely must. Winter dehydration and kidney issues (stones) or other uroliths (urethral stones) are a real health issue. Mine drink conditioned water and pee up a storm . . . warm water in sub freezing temps is cow's delight.

There are times where we have little heat/cool and thus the geo unit is not on much. For those few weeks, I have a bypass valve that fills the water stations at about 2 quarts (liters) a minute (24x7) total. The spillover from all water stations all goes to ponds that are where I get summer irrigation water. I hate to "waste" the btus in that water in low heat/cool times, but this is typically only for a few weeks.

Most cattle people use 1200 watt resistance drop in heaters in their water tanks and the winter bills are just outrageous. Because these are essentially on 100% of the time below 40 F, you have multiple 1.2 kW heaters going 24x7. And the tanks are big 1000 gallon types, so the water remains just above freezing (too cold for appropriate re hydration). Six of these would be 7.2 kW or about 173 kWhrs a day. At $0.10 per kWhr, the DAILY cost, just for these "drop in" resistance heaters would be about $17, with a monthly cost of $518. My cost was trenching some thin walled irrigation type water pipes and paying attention to how water runs downhill . . . .

Most livestock farms of my size assume monthly electric bills for the farm in the $1,000 + range (winter water heaters, summer pump irrigation, etc). My cattle friends are amazed that I am doing this at 1/5th that - and heating/cooling two houses.

The beef freezers contain about $30K of for sale frozen beef so we simply cannot allow those to not be powered. I always have an empty one ready if one of the ones in use fails.

I am also looking at a dedicated "walk in" freezer (200 sq ft) built with 12 inch SIPS as this would make the total freezer kWhr consumption go way down. But then a single freezer unit susceptible to eventual failure at the worst time . . . An alternative is to "rent" freezers to people that want a whole steer (~ 600 lbs), but do not have the space for a large freezer.

The energy plan we have is actually quite comprehensive, but I am now looking seriously at a dedicated back up propane fired generator. A 10-15 kW unit would actually supply all I need, even considering peak start up current for water pump geo compressors, etc.

And next summer will be a 10 kW PV panel on the shop with grid tie. Those don't help with power outages, but Enphase has just released a bidirectional inverter and a "powerwall" system with non-proprietary battery connections (Tesla, others). Then Nissan has announced a bidirectional battery in the new Leaf. That would be about 30 kW just in the car . . . But realistically, an internal combustion back up generator is in the cards.

Winter ice storms and spring wind storms both bring down trees onto power lines. I can't deny that aspect of central Oklahoma - love the trees, but they always seem to fall in the direction of the overhead power lines . . . The lines on my property are underground, but not so the distribution to me . . .

Woke up a couple nights ago worried that I forgot to refill the diesel tractor with fuel. It was so nice to realize that I did NOT have to do that!!

Over the years, many people on this (and other sites) contributes to my preparations above and I thank you for your past comments, suggestions and positivism as well as future concepts. How to have convenience, ready back-up and at appropriate cost is tough!


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Old 12-13-15, 12:36 PM   #8
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Thanks for the beef industry education, always ready to learn something.

I'm sure some of my hog farming cousins in IL know about the warm water in winter, but I did not, nor the rehydration aspect of hay.
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Old 12-13-15, 03:53 PM   #9
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I did not realize how much infrastructure you have already installed on your property. It seems that everything you mentioned has has a quick and practical ROI. A couple hundred dollars a month savings every winter adds up quickly I would imagine. And the healthy cattle have to improve the yield and quality over the long term. The triple purpose of the water being pumped from the ground has to be beneficial to your bottom line also. Sounds like a well-laid plan to me.

I would definitely look into pushing some of your solar into a "critical needs" reserve that could allow you to run for a few hours for short-term outages. It could possibly run your well pump and product refrigeration at night, while the solar could recharge the reserve and power critical systems while the sun is out. For major events, the reserve could do its duty while you fired up the tractor, or when something ran out of gas in the wee hours of the night. If this sounds like a bad idea, just buy more panels with the reserve component money, then buy a generac with the savings in a year.
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Old 12-14-15, 07:27 AM   #10
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Jeff, sounds like you are advocating some battery storage for well pump via PV. My problem is that the average current for the deep well pump is not too bad ~ 1.5 kW, but the kicker is the starting current. My clamp on meter has an "peak instant" setting and it looks like I need almost three times that average power to start the deep well pump.

Several years ago, I had a neighbor fry his deep well pump (similar size to mine) with a 2.5 kW Honda generator. He assumed that since average pump current was less than 2.5 kW that this size generator provided, he would be fine. The "autopsy" showed high current overload and burned out components in the pump.

One nice thing about my tractor PTO unit - especially the 80 HP one, is that there is a lot of angular momentum in the running unit (essentially a huge flywheel) and this PTO generator is capable of handling peak starting loads with almost no voltage drop. The same 15 kW PTO generator on the "small" 30 HP tractor showed a lot more starting flicker (voltage drop) when the deep well pump turned on. Voltage drops, such as these short transients, for long periods are really tough on many electrical appliances.

My water pump (water for livestock) is critical. That is why I have two deep water wells with one in reserve. A lot of cattle people do not appreciate the need for water. The worst outages occur in winter (ice storms) and cattle go out onto frozen ponds and fall through ice trying to find water.

I was planning to use microinverters (EnPhase) for the 10 kW PV system, but microinverters are a grid tied system. There are some string inverters with battery back up provision, but I can't find one that will start the deep well pump (enough peak power).

Lastly, I was reviewing home 15 kW sized standby generators (LPG) with automatic transfer switches. The Generac units seem to have LOTS of problems with the stators and basic design (lots of warranty issues that appear to have unhappy customers).

Kohler/Briggs & Stratton cost a bit more, but are far more highly rated. Anyone have comments on reliability of home standby units?

Thanks in advance.

Steve

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