Protecting your family from outages

Protecting your family from outages

The Texas blackout is only a symptom of a nationwide problem: What you need to know about the fragile state of the electric grid and how to protect your family from outages.

In February 2021, a massive winter storm plunged the Texas region into a virtual snow globe. Not only was the state unprepared to remove the snow that blocked roads and access, but the grid supplying Texan’s with critical electricity couldn’t handle it either. 

In the days and weeks that followed, millions of people wanted to know who was to blame for the massive outages that have been attributed to 111 deaths

It turns out, the ‘who’ was the simple question. And the simple solution.

After stripping away the many layers of blame shifting, the ‘how’ behind the blackout is much more concerning: The grid was physically incapable of keeping up with the demand for power, even if the entire grid remained online. There just wasn’t enough power to satisfy the demand.

As the temperature dropped on February 14th, Texans began turning on their heat, which was mostly electric. With so many homes trying to stay warm, a record-shattering demand spike was seen to the tune of 74.5 gigawatts

In comparison, normal Texas grid operation is roughly 58 gigawatts, statewide. To prepare for temporary surges in demand, the Texas grid can increase their supply to a maximum of 67 gigawatts. 

In other words, the demand for electricity was almost 8 gigawatts over what could be supplied under any circumstances. Even in emergencies. 

The unavoidable truth is that even if Texas’ electric generation capacity stayed 100% online during the storm, there still would have been blackouts. The grid just couldn't keep up with the power demands placed on it by the population.  

By time the storm had passed, 14 U.S. States were forced to establish rolling blackouts to cover the electric shortage. Even outside of Texas, there just wasn't enough power to go around.
  
This is not a new phenomenon, either. 

In fact, electrical systems engineers and industry experts have been issuing reports for years that all say the same thing: without a staggering shift in upgrades and spending, outages will only increase in frequency and duration. Placing millions of people at risk every time the grid goes down.

And they unanimously agree that no section of the grid is “safe” from longer, and more frequent, outages. Nationwide. 

Why is the grid struggling? And what can we do to protect our homes and businesses from the inevitable threats that follow power outages? 

Our electric grid is like a house of cards

When operating under ideal conditions, the U.S. electric grid is a deeply complex interconnected system of power generation plants, transformers and some 6 million miles of wires. 

Using sensors, switching gear, and control centers, the grid can reroute power if small sections go black because of storms, accidents, or even repair work. Most of the time, people don’t even realize that something has rerouted their power because the transitions are near-seamless.

At least, that’s how the grid works under perfect conditions.

In August 2003, a transmission cable in Ohio heated from above-normal power demands, causing the cable to become flexible and sag. The sagging cable touched a tree, which caused a power failure. When that section went dark, nearby sections of the grid attempted to pick up the extra burden as designed to keep the lights on. 

Only those sections were already under a substantial load of their own from consumer demand and could not handle the increase. They, too, went down.

Over the next few hours, a cascading series of demand shifts continued to take down sections of the grid in a snowball effect, until over 50 million people across 8 U.S. states and parts of Canada were without power. 

The 2003 Northeast Blackout, as it was termed, took weeks to restore the entire grid to 100% functionality, contributed to 11 deaths and cost an estimated $6 billion in lost production and damages

Despite the grid operating exactly as designed, the power demand was simply too great to manage.

An aging grid over capacity… and the demand just keeps going up

In their 2017 Infrastructure Report, the American Society of Civil Engineers gave the US electric grid a D+. The shocking report stated: “much of the U.S. energy system predates the turn of the 20th century. Most electric transmission and distribution lines were constructed in the 1950s and 1960s with a 50-year life expectancy...the lower 48 states’ power grid is at full capacity, with many lines operating well beyond their design.”  

In shorter terms, they designed much of the grid to only last 50 years before replacement. And it was installed 70 years ago when the average home and business used a fraction of the power they do now.

And the well-intentioned adoption of electric vehicles and home charging stations may dramatically balloon the demand for electricity past the point of sustainability.

According to new research from energy systems engineers at the National Renewable Energy Laboratory (NREL), just one or two electric vehicles on one block may overload nearby transformers past their operating capacity. Transformers that may have operated for 30-40 years will probably need to be replaced in less than 10, which exponentially increases the cost of just maintaining the grid. 

For comparison, the current king of home electric use, a central air conditioner, uses roughly 7kW of power to cool a large 3,500 square foot home during the height of summer. The charger necessary to keep a single electric car ready for everyday use, on the other hand, can demand a staggering 22kw while charging. Put another way, that single charger is the power equivalent of three large central air units cooling a combined 10,500 square feet of living space.    

So add the demands of new transformers to the projected $197 billion investment gap by 2029, and it gets a lot clearer why the DOE’s Grid Modernization Multi-Year Program plan, said that electric utilities will need to spend between $1.5 and $2 trillion from 2010 to 2030, just to maintain reliability of the existing grid.

All told, from 2008-2017, there was an average of 3,188 blackouts per year, plunging an average of 21.96 million people per year, into the dark. 

That is a whole lot of blackouts you may not have heard about until right now.

So if the grid is really this strained, and they forecast electricity demand to dramatically increase with electric vehicles, what can we do to protect our homes and families during an emergency?

Managing the inevitable outages with comfort and security 

Statistically, most of the documented outages when demand outstripped supply occurred during more extreme weather events. Realistically, when it is very hot or very cold, people will be calling on more electricity to maintain a comfortable, and safe, temperature.

Logically, that also means we should be doubly concerned about these types of outage events since losing power during severe weather also means losing the ability to keep our homes at safe temperatures, with running water and safe food storage. 

If the problem is the grid letting us down, then the clear preparation alternative is to generate your own electricity to keep your lights on. 

Let’s look at two ways to do that.

Solar Power

Solar power is a fantastic alternative to grid power, and also has the potential to generate electricity year round, not just during an outage. As long as the sun is up and shining, you will have electricity and a lower utility bill. 

Well, almost.

There is one critical aspect of a solar array that is absolutely necessary to run your solar during a grid outage: a battery bank. 

The reason is a federal mandate called “anti-islanding”, which was instituted to protect utility workers during power outages. Essentially, all solar systems installed in the U.S. are required to stop generating electricity in the event the grid goes down. The reason is simple: if the grid is down, then utility workers can safely fix the problem without being electrocuted. But if you have a grid-connected solar array, then your panels can still feed the grid and potentially electrocute utility workers anywhere in your vicinity. Anti-islanding prevents that risk.

The solution to this mandate is a hybrid grid-tie system that has a battery bank attached to it. During an outage, the solar array feeds power into the batteries, which are used to power loads in the home, all isolated from the grid by a transfer switch. 

The downside to this concept is that the battery banks are very large, expensive, and could need to be replaced in as little as five years.

Standby Whole House Generator 

Outside of solar arrays, the best bang for the buck option that can be installed in the shortest period is the standby whole house generator.

These generators are permanently installed next to your home and look just like a central air conditioning unit. When the power goes out, or even “browns-out”, the generator will automatically turn on and take over the power supply to your house. Even if no one is home. 

The obvious upside to this option is a total backup replacement of your power supply without sacrificing any comforts. Even on the hottest days or coldest nights, your generator will continue powering the critical items that keep your family safe and comfortable. To top it all off, natural gas-powered generators mean no refueling in the middle of the night, or needing to be home for the power to stay on. It just works.

And choosing a meticulously-designed generator, like the Cummins QuietConnect, also means no loud shrieking motors or failures at the moment of truth. Just smooth, confident electricity that is entirely inside your control.  

Keeping your lights on is a choice you can make

All of this may be very concerning, since electricity is one of those things that we just can’t imagine life without. And many of us have seen what happens when the power goes out for an extended period in severe weather: it doesn’t take long before things get ugly.

In time, the hope is that newer technology will be developed to cope with the ever-increasing demand placed on the grid. Or they will dramatically increase infrastructure spending to make up the shortfall of system-lifespan and eventual replacement. Regardless of how that solution presents itself, however, there is little doubt that the problem exists right now.

The good news is we don’t have to wait for someone else to fix our problems for us, and we certainly don’t have to wait for bad times to strike before we take steps to prevent it. 

Every family can start taking steps now to prepare for an outage later. Stocking up on warm clothes for winter outages, or bottled water for summer outages. Keeping a supply of non-perishable food on hand, or learning how to capture rainfall for the really long outages. 

Or, for the family that wants to ironclad their outage plan, consider finding your nearest Cummins dealer and scheduling a painless home assessment. In just a few minutes you can know exactly how little the ultimate peace of mind can cost and even explore financing options from Synchrony Bank. 

Then, the next time the grid lets you down, regardless of the weather or demand, your family will still be safe and comfortable.   

Cummins Office Building

Cummins Inc.

Cummins is a global power leader that designs, manufactures, sells and services diesel and alternative fuel engines from 2.8 to 95 liters, diesel and alternative-fueled electrical generator sets from 2.5 to 3,500 kW, as well as related components and technology. Cummins serves its customers through its network of 600 company-owned and independent distributor facilities and more than 7,200 dealer locations in over 190 countries and territories.

Why I sell Cummins generators for hurricane season

Cummins generator powering a home in the rain

This article was authored by Jared Godwin, Cummins dealer at Lawson & Lawson Electrical Services

Years ago, the electrical contractor I work for, Lawson & Lawson in Tallahassee, began selling home generators because we wanted to help our customers power through anything. This is Florida after all, and hurricanes are a constant risk.

How Hurricanes Create Power Outages.

Year after year, we see the damage hurricanes cause. Some of the worst wreckage we’ve ever seen was in 2018 when we opened our Panama Beach office. Hurricane Michael, a category 5, had just hit nearby Mexico Beach.

Destructive storm wind and rain are hard on Florida’s trees, causing limbs to fall on power lines and leaving Floridians without power. Eventually my customers become tired of sitting in the heat and waiting for the power to be turned back on. So, they decide to get a Cummins QuietConnect™ standby generator for their homes. The most common phrase I hear from them is, “I just can’t go another year.”

The Importance of Ordering a Generator Early.

If you’re interested in a home standby generator, don’t wait. Schedule an appointment with your authorized Cummins dealer as soon as possible. Here in Tallahassee, it takes a month to get a permit and up to another two weeks to schedule and install the generator.

Six weeks on the high side is not a big deal for somebody who has already made the decision. But for someone panicked because they see a hurricane out in the Gulf, there’s simply not enough time before the storm makes landfall.

In other areas of the country, permitting times may vary, so it is always best to be prepared. You can find a local Cummins dealer or schedule a free in-home assessment through the Cummins website to get started.

Why We Sell Cummins Generators.

The answer is simple. The Cummins makes quality products and stands behind them. We know if there’s an issue, Cummins is going to work with us to quickly resolve it. That keeps our customers happy and gives us the confidence to recommend its whole-home generators.

When we install our Cummins QuietConnect standby generators, we work with a lot of gas contractors. As they connect their gas lines to the generators, they see just how well they work and are impressed. So, we also get a lot of referrals through them.

Creating a good customer relationship is important to us. I give my customers my mobile phone number and answer texts 24/7 throughout the installation process. This gives them the peace of mind of knowing they are going to be taken care of by me and by Cummins.

At the end of the day, when you sell a good product and do a good deed, it gets around. If you’re interested in becoming a Cummins dealer like Lawson & Lawson, check out the benefits of partnering with Cummins.

Cummins Office Building

Cummins Inc.

Cummins is a global power leader that designs, manufactures, sells and services diesel and alternative fuel engines from 2.8 to 95 liters, diesel and alternative-fueled electrical generator sets from 2.5 to 3,500 kW, as well as related components and technology. Cummins serves its customers through its network of 600 company-owned and independent distributor facilities and more than 7,200 dealer locations in over 190 countries and territories.

What’s the true cost of a power outage without a Cummins home generator?

Home during power outage

Long-term power outages can be both inconvenient and expensive, disrupting your family’s comfort and safety. While every power outage is different for each homeowner, costs can add up to a surprisingly large amount. Plus, if you work from home or have a home business, in addition to any physical damages, you may have to endure the cost of lost work, productivity or wages.

Before you invest in a Cummins QuietConnect™ home standby generator, first consider the cost of going through a major power outage without one. Then, compare that cost against the price of a Cummins standby generator. You can get an estimate on a whole house generator by finding a dealer with our dealer locator tool, or by requesting an in-home assessment.

Whether your power outages are caused by severe weather, an aging power grid or rolling brownouts, here are some of the financial hits your family may have to absorb:

  • Flooded basement — If the electricity goes out and your sump pumps stop working, you may wind up with water damage in your basement. According to homeadvisor.com, the average cost to clean up a flooded basement could range between $500 and a whopping $85,000.
  • Mold remediation — Enduring some flooding means you will likely need to have portions of your home treated to prevent toxic mold. The experts at bobvila.com say the average cost of mold remediation is $2,214.
  • Food spoilage — If the power stays out for enough time, the food in your refrigerators and freezers will spoil. Forbes.com says that many insurance companies will pay up to $500 worth of food spoilage, but only if the cause of the power outage is covered under your policy. If you have a full deep freezer full of meat, the costs could be even more.
  • Burst or frozen pipes — Losing power during the winter months brings additional risks. According to Consumer Reports, the cost to repair burst or frozen pipes can easily exceed $5,000.
  • Hotel stays — If your home becomes uninhabitable during a power outage, your family may need to seek alternate shelter. Statista, which tracks hotel prices, says the average nightly stay costs $90.92. Add in the expenses of travel and meals out and the number begins to rapidly climb.

There are additional costs to consider as well — not all of them financial. For instance, there’s the impact to your health if you use home medical devices and the inconvenience of having your life turned upside down during the power outage.

With power outages becoming more and more common, it’s easy to see how the hidden financial and quality-of-life costs escalate, putting the cost of a Cummins QuietConnect home standby generator in perspective.

To find a dealer to help you estimate the investment needed for your own home generator, please visit our home generators dealer locator map.

Cummins Office Building

Cummins Inc.

Cummins is a global power leader that designs, manufactures, sells and services diesel and alternative fuel engines from 2.8 to 95 liters, diesel and alternative-fueled electrical generator sets from 2.5 to 3,500 kW, as well as related components and technology. Cummins serves its customers through its network of 600 company-owned and independent distributor facilities and more than 7,200 dealer locations in over 190 countries and territories.

Watch Now: What Consulting-Specifying Engineers need today

Wissam Balashe with the Editor in Chief, CSE Magazine - Amara Rozgus

Watch Cummins Business Director for Energy Management Solutions, Wissam Balashe's interview with the Editor in Chief, CSE Magazine - Amara Rozgus here. In this insightful conversation, Balashe discusses what Consulting-Specifying Engineer’s (CSE) are requesting OEM manufactures for while designing energy solutions. He spoke in depth about the work done by Cummins Power Generation to meet these needs. 

He further talks about the shift towards an integrated power solution approach and the considerations electrical engineers should take while designing or retrofitting existing controls systems. He used his industry knowledge to discuss the steps that CSE’s can take to keep up with the emerging technologies in the dynamic power generation industry.

WATCH NOW

Wissam Balshe

Wissam Balshe

Wissam Balshe has been in the power systems industry since 2002 and joined Cummins in 2007. He led the application engineering team for North America (2007-2010), then led the Strategic Business Development efforts for the Power Solutions Business (2011-2015), focusing on Distributed Generation and Micro-grid applications. He joined the North America Power Gen Sales team managing the Rocky Mountain Territory for a brief period in 2016 before joining the Marketing Segment team as the director of the Mission Critical Segment. Wissam currently leads the Global Systems & Controls Business for the Power Systems Business Unit.   

Wissam represented Cummins in multiple codes and standards committees (IEE1547, CSA282, NEMA MG1), and trade associations (Vice Chair of the US CHP Association in 2012-2013). He actively advocates distributed generation incentives at the Federal and State Levels and the board of multiple community organizations in Minnesota (outside of Cummins). 

Wissam has a Bachelor’s degree in electrical engineering from the University of Minnesota, and an executive MBA from Indiana University.

Should you choose a whole-home standby or portable generator?

With the increased frequency of severe weather events, you may find yourself considering a home backup generator. What type is best for protecting your family during weather-related outages? The answer: It depends. 

Cummins whole-home standby generators and portable generators have different advantages. To help you decide which one is right for you, here are four things to consider:

Power everything or just a few essentials?

If you want to power your whole home and carry on as if nothing has happened outside, then a Cummins QuietConnect™ standby generator is the way to go. This permanently installed generator will be strong enough to run all or nearly all the devices in your home. With a portable generator, you will have to size the generator set to power only certain essential devices. 

What’s your budget?

Standby generators are more powerful, longer lasting and less work to use, but they are also more expensive. Portables are more affordable because they are less powerful and more labor-intensive to use.

Permanent installation or portability?

One of the advantages of portables is that you can use them for more than just powering essentials in your home. You can take them with you on camping trips, tailgates or to power tools on worksites. Standby generators are permanently installed at your home.

How much work do you want to do?

With a standby generator, you often don’t have to lift a finger. An automatic transfer switch is part of the installation. In a power outage, the switch will automatically detect the power outage, disconnects your home from the utility line and connects it to the generator. Once electric service has been restored, it will reverse the process. 

With a portable generator, you have to get it out of storage, wheel it a safe distance from the house, fill it with fuel, start it and then run a power cord from it to the house…often in bad weather. If your outage lasts a long time, you will have to periodically refuel it. Then, after the outage, you have to disconnect it from your appliances, drain the fuel and wheel it back to storage.

There are other differences to consider before purchasing a home standby or portable generator. Your friendly Cummins dealer will be happy to walk through all of them with you. 

To get connected with a Cummins authorized dealer, visit our find a dealer page. You may also want to use our generator sizing calculator to get a rough estimate of how much power you need. 

Cummins Office Building

Cummins Inc.

Cummins is a global power leader that designs, manufactures, sells and services diesel and alternative fuel engines from 2.8 to 95 liters, diesel and alternative-fueled electrical generator sets from 2.5 to 3,500 kW, as well as related components and technology. Cummins serves its customers through its network of 600 company-owned and independent distributor facilities and more than 7,200 dealer locations in over 190 countries and territories.

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