How to prepare for a power outage: season by season
Ever heard the expression summer bodies are made in winter? Well, winter blackout preparedness is best started...now. That goes for all the seasons, actually, because the US is experiencing more outages than ever before, year-round.
We experience unseasonably hot and cold spring and autumn weather, severe cold snaps in winter and severe heat waves in summer. Then there are hurricanes and tornadoes, too. With all of that going on, power outages happen all year round.
Depending on the season, you need to have a plan in place to keep you and your family either warm or cool, safe, and connected to emergency services if disaster strikes. You need backup power that doesn't depend on the grid, and that means solar.
If you need to become more familiar with the ins and outs of emergency solar power, it's time to get with the program and read our emergency solar power FAQ or download our emergency solar power 101 guide. A few minutes of reading could make the difference between shivering in the cold and dark, eating beans from a can, or chilling in front of your TV with a hot meal in a well-lit room when the rest of the neighborhood goes dark.
What are power outages?
First things first: what is a power outage? A power outage is the unexpected loss of electricity, either due to severe weather conditions, constraints on the grid during times of high demand, equipment failure, scheduled maintenance work, or even terrorism or cyberattacks.
When the electricity in an entire area unexpectedly goes out and everything that runs on electricity stops working, that’s a blackout. The power grid is essentially a network of power lines that carry electricity from power plants to homes and businesses. If something accidentally goes wrong with the power grid, like a major storm, equipment failure, or overload, it can cause a blackout. With a blackout, there's no way of knowing when the power will be restored.
A brownout isn't an accident but rather a planned event where the utility purposefully reduces power flow to prevent a full-blown blackout. Unlike a blackout, power is still being supplied but at a very low voltage. Because the electricity is still flowing, but it's not as strong as it should be, some devices will stop working properly or work slower than usual. You may notice lights flickering or appliances turning on and off. Keeping devices plugged in is generally not a good idea as the low voltage can damage them.
The main difference between a blackout and a brownout is that a blackout is a complete loss of electricity, while a brownout is a temporary decrease in voltage. Blackouts can last for hours or even days, while brownouts usually only last anywhere from a few minutes to a few hours. Either way, it sucks big time.
What are the main causes of power outages?
According to the Economist, adverse weather and natural disasters are to blame for at least 43% of power outages, followed by system operation failures or maintenance (19%), vandalism, attack or sabotage (16%), and various other causes. The vast majority of outages occur in summer and autumn, primarily due to power overloads and extreme weather events that increase the risk of wildfires and can strain the aging grid as more people turn on their air conditioners to beat the heat.
Why is solar power the best emergency backup?
Solar power is a great solution for preparing for an outage because it is a reliable and renewable source of energy that doesn't rely on the power grid. A solar generator and solar panels can provide a continuous source of electricity during a blackout. You can keep powering your essential appliances and devices like lights, refrigerators, and medical equipment.
One of the main advantages of solar power is that it is not affected by power outages caused by severe weather or equipment failure. Solar panels can continue to generate electricity even during a blackout as long as they receive sufficient sunlight. This means that you can have a reliable backup power source that can provide electricity for days or even weeks, depending on the size of your solar generator and the number of solar panels you have.
How to prepare for power outages: season to season
Each season presents different risks and you should have a power outage plan in place for each. Bear in mind that if you have someone in your household with special medical needs (such as special devices that need to be powered or refrigerated medicines that need to be kept cool), you should factor that into your plan.
How to prepare for power outages in winter
In winter, heavy snow, ice storms, and strong winds can cause damage to power lines. During extreme temperatures, the grid is constrained and can even collapse, meaning that outages can last for hours or even days. During the severe winter storms in Texas in 2021, homeowners went without power for six days.
Your main concern during winter will be to stay warm. Here are a few things you should do:
- Ensure you have a good supply of non-perishable shelf-stable foods so you aren't as reliant on your fridge. Make sure everyone in the family has warm clothing and sleeping bags. It's a good idea to heat and live in one room as a family.
- Using flashlights and battery-powered lights instead of candles or kerosene lamps that can pose significant fire hazards.
- Be careful when using a gas stove, and never use a gas generator indoors, as it will release dangerous fumes that can cause carbon monoxide poisoning.
- Buy surge protection equipment for all devices that draw continuous power, such as routers, fridges, and freezers.
- If you have an indoor fireplace or wood stove, make sure that you have enough wood stocked up.
- Pipes can freeze, so keep enough drinking water on hand.
If you want to use a solar generator or solar power during winter, ensure that your battery backup can power the devices you need most. If you need to run a storage heater to keep warm, a solar generator is a great option. Always make sure that the generator has a bigger capacity than the heater requires; for example, if your heater requires 1500W to run, opt for a generator with a 2000W output. If you want to use small appliances to keep your food cold or to cook with, a generator with a 3600Wh capacity can keep your air fryer running for more than 2 hours and your mini fridge going for 57 hours without recharging.
How to prepare for power outages in spring
Spring is in the air, and that's a good thing for everyone except the Southeast. Thunderstorms and tornadoes can lead to outages that last either hours or days, depending on the severity.
- Make sure that you have a battery-powered or hand-cranked radio so that you can keep informed about weather updates.
- Avoid using candles, kerosene, or other flammable items that can get knocked over and cause a fire. Opt for torches and solar lights instead.
- There is always a chance that you may have to evacuate, so keep a bag of clothing, medical supplies, spare medication, and non-perishable food handy. Keep a few flashlights handy and avoid downed power lines or standing water, as there may be a risk of electrical shock.
- Keep ropes nearby to tie down any loose furniture or items.
- If you have pets, keep a pet carrier and extra food in the house.
If you’re holed up in your basement due to a hurricane or tornado, you'll definitely want to have a light and a phone or laptop handy to keep up with the latest developments. A portable power bank or generator along with portable solar panels can keep you connected when you need them most. If you aren't worried about food storage, a small generator with 882Wh capacity will fully charge an 11W phone 62 times and a 60W laptop 12 times, plus other small appliances.
How to prepare for power outages in summer
Heat waves, hurricanes, and thunderstorms can cause power outages in summer, while extreme heat can push the grid past its limits. Wildfires can also disable electrical power for days. Your main priority will be to stay cool and hydrated and to keep perishables safe, especially if you have a full freezer when the power goes out unexpectedly.
- Stock up on water, non-perishable food, and other emergency supplies. Keep flashlights, batteries, and a hand-cranked or battery radio nearby.
- The food in your fridge will be edible for about four hours after the power goes out, so either plug the fridge into a generator or discard the food if the power is out for longer than that.
- If you have very young or elderly people living in your home, you may want to invest in a portable solar air conditioner to keep them safe during an extended power outage in a heat wave. Luckily, the one thing you'll have a lot of in summer is solar power!
- Have a backup power source to keep any medical devices running that you need. You may want to consider keeping a foldable solar panel kit handy if there is any electrical equipment that you can't afford to switch off at any time.
If you live in an area with prolonged outages in summer, it may be worth investing in a small solar fridge and solar air conditioner. Alternatively, look at getting a solar generator with an 882Wh battery capacity. Your solar generator can power a freezer for at least 21 hours to 3 days, or continually if you can recharge it using solar panels. Bear in mind that a heatwave typically lasts between 4 to 7 days, so prepare accordingly.
How to prepare for power outages in the fall
Strong winds, thunderstorms, and wildfires can cause power outages in the fall that can last several days.
- Have a battery-powered or hand-cranked radio to stay informed about weather updates and evacuation orders.
- Keep your car's gas tank full in case of evacuation.
- Avoid using candles and use battery-powered or solar-powered lights instead. Check for damage to your home and property before venturing outside, and avoid any downed power lines or fire-damaged areas.
- Keep a few days of food, water, and pet food on hand in case you need it. It's a good idea to pack a "go-bag" with essentials like toothpaste, clothing, cash, and phone chargers handy if you need to evacuate in a hurry.
A 2016Wh capacity solar generator can provide up to 3400W of power, which means you can run a 110W television for 15 hours, a 120W fridge for 15 hours, and a 40W CPAP machine for 34 hours. If you think you'll need more power than that, look for an expandable solar generator with additional battery options so you can boost your capacity from 2kWH to 6kWh or more.
Solar kits: your best all-in-one solution
Preparing for a power outage has become all too familiar for most of us, especially those of us that have been caught off guard before. You can lose power, but you don't have to lose hope, people!
You can beat power failures with a handy emergency solar kit that contains everything you need to stay up and running when an outage strikes. Solar kits are not only cheaper than using a solar company to install your solar panel system, but they are easy to maintain, convenient and quick to set up.
This means you can be prepared for any emergency in a matter of days, at half the price a solar company would charge you. Plus, when you install a kit yourself, you’ll know how to fix most problems that crop up. You’ll be better equipped to deal with any emergency.
Want to know the best solar kits for emergency preparedness? We have a handy roundup of all the best kits for all emergency scenarios.
Visit shopsolarkits.com to speak to a professional on our team. They'll give you advice based on your needs and budget and provide an expert quote in no time flat.
Learn how to use solar power to be prepared for any emergency with our comprehensive guide to emergency solar power.