Modern life is complicated. We rely on a vast network of other people, who provide us goods and services that we can’t produce ourselves. This has made modern life much more comfortable, with conveniences that our ancestors didn’t even dream of. Yet, everything has its price, and the price of such comfort and convenience is dependency on that vast network of other people.
Anything as complicated as our modern infrastructure is bound to have problems and failures. We see this happen from time to time, with loss of internet service, roads shut down by storms and even toxic chemicals being spilled into rivers that supply water to our cities. But nowhere do we see it as often, as in the loss of electric power, when something happens to our electrical grid.
This is not something as secretive as we’d all like to believe. Friends and enemies around the world can tell how delicate our electric grid is and how easy it would be to damage it. Worse, there are things that could be done to bring it down entirely. If we know this, you can be sure our enemies know it too.
Of course, taking down the entire grid would be a challenge. But if someone wanted to do serious damage to the United States, that would be the way to go. We are so dependent on electricity in our nation, that a loss of the grid would be devastating; especially a loss that couldn’t be repaired quickly. That could lead to massive deaths and a breakdown of society. So, how could that happen?
There’s a principle that is used in everything from business to the military. That’s the KISS principle. If you’re not familiar with it, KISS stands for “keep it simple stupid.”
Seems kind of strange, doesn’t it? But there is solid reasoning behind that somewhat insulting phrase. That is, the more complex something is, the more chance of something going wrong with it. Hmm, that makes it sound like that vast, complicated network we count on for our comfort clearly violates the KISS principle.
- An EMP Attack - Both solid-state electronics and the grid itself are vulnerable to EMP. A single nuclear blast, high enough over the central United States, could shut down the entire country.
- Cyber-terrorism or Cyber-warfare - Our electric grid is constantly being "tickled" by attempts at hacking in to control systems. Since much of the equipment is old, this isn't as hard as it would be with new equipment. Some of these test attacks have taken power generating or sub-stations offline for as much as several hours.
- Direct Acts of Terrorism - What is believed to be a test attack was conducted on a sub-station in Southern California. In the attack, an unknown number of assailants shot about 50 rounds at the coolant tanks on the transformers. This low-tech attack was enough to shut down the sub-station, requiring a new transformer be built.
It’s clear that an EMP would be the most effective of these attacks, from the viewpoint of our enemies. But there’s nothing saying that either of the other attacks couldn’t be done. The only problem would be that the enemy would have to coordinate multiple attacks at one time.
There are supposedly nine key sub-stations in the United States, which if taken down at the same time, would take down the entire grid. Attacking nine targets at once isn’t all that hard, nothing like trying to attack all the power generating sites at once. The worst part of it is that the transformers in those sites are all custom made and take over a year to build. So, taking them down would essentially put the country in the dark for at least that long, perhaps for years.
What Would a Loss of the Grid Mean?
We depend on electrical power for literally everything in our lives. Without it, pretty much everything comes to a standstill. Even things that don’t seem on the surface like they should require electrical power do, at a minimum, for the controls.
Many critical areas of the infrastructure, such as telephone systems, require some sort of power backup. But those systems all depend on some sort of fuel. Without electrical power, they would lose their fuel source. So, while they might continue working for a while, they would all go down, as soon as their backup fuel supply went out. About the only things that would continue working are those that truly are self-supporting in electrical power.
To give you an example of what I’m talking about, one of these would be the natural gas network. Most natural gas pumping stations produce their own electrical power, with generators that are powered by the natural gas they are pumping. So, even if the rest of the grid were to go down, they would still have power to pump natural gas. Whether we’d be able to use it is another issue entirely.
But not every part of the infrastructure has the advantage that natural gas does; in fact, little of it does. Most of the infrastructure would be down, to include:
- Water distribution – In most cities, electric pumps are used to distribute water, as well as to pump it into water towers, so that there will be sufficient water pressure. Without that pressure, the water would only go to the homes and businesses that are at a lower elevation within the system. For cities which depend on wells for their water supply, the loss of electric power would totally eliminate any water distribution.
- Sewage treatment – Water treatment plants also require the use of large pumps to move the water through the various stages of filtration and aeration. Without those pumps to move the sewage, sewage lines would back up, effectively eliminating the sanitary sewage system.
- Telephones – While telephone and internet providers are required to have backup power, that power would last only as long as their fuel supply. Once that ran out, they would be out of business.
- Radio and Television – Broadcast media also have backup power generation capability, but are faced with the same fuel limitations as telephone services.
- Stores – All stores today use computerized cash registers. Without those, they have no way of handling transactions or tracking their inventory for reordering. While some smaller stores may be willing to do business on a cash basis, they would be unable to restock their shelves.
- Gasoline – Without electricity, the entire petroleum industry comes to a standstill. Most oil well pumps require electricity to operate, although there are some that run off of internal combustion engines. Even so, refineries require massive amounts of electricity to operate. Without it, no petroleum can move. They can’t even pump the finished fuel out of their storage tanks without electricity.
- Over-the-road trucking – Without gasoline and diesel the highways would become empty. Distribution of all sorts of goods, which depend on the trucking industry, would come to an end. The only distribution of products would be at a local level.
- Transportation – All types of modern transportation either require petroleum fuels or electricity. Without the grid, none of them will work. Aircraft will be grounded. Trains will cease to roll. Cars will be parked in their garages. Even shipping will come to an end, once the ships use up their bunker fuel.
- Manufacturing – All manufacturing facilities require electrical power to function. Without electricity, they all would be forced to close their doors.
- Agriculture – As long as local supplies of fuel held out, farmers would still be able to grow crops and harvest them. But that’s about as far as it would go. The distribution network that is needed to get that food to market would be stopped. Once fuel ran out, the farmers would be stopped too.
Moving from the infrastructure to our homes, we use electricity for a number of very important things. All of these would be lost. While some could be replaced, at least to some extent, by other methods, not everything would be replaceable.
- Heating – Except for people who heat with wood or those who use natural gas catalytic heaters, the loss of electrical power would put an end to heating our homes. All other forms of heating require electrical power for control, pumps and blowers.
- Cooling – Air conditioners are probably the single largest user of electrical power in the home. Without electricity, we wouldn’t have any cooling, not even a fan.
- Refrigeration – Our most common form of food preservation is refrigeration and freezing. Without electrical power, our refrigerators wouldn’t run. The insulation would keep the food safe for about two days, before it would begin to spoil.
- Cooking – Many homes use electric stoves. Even those that don’t have microwave ovens. These devices won’t work without electric power.
- Hot Water – Some homes use electricity for heating hot water. This would no longer function. But even those who have natural gas hot water heaters would lose out, as their heaters wouldn’t have a constant water supply to heat.
- Washing clothes – Automatic washers and dryers would be out of commission. Not only would they not have electrical power, but their water source would be out as well.
- Light – Electrical lighting allows us to extend our days. But without power, we’d need to call it quits when the sun goes down.
- Entertainment – Most of our home entertainment is electrically powered. While board games, books and playing cards would still exist, that’s about all there would be.
- Computers – We’d have to stop using our computers, tablets and smart phones, as there wouldn’t be power to run them.
- Security alarms – Not everyone has them, but for those who do, their alarm systems would stop working.
I may have missed something on that list, but it should suffice to show that life as we know it, would come to an end. Oh, we wouldn’t necessarily die, but we wouldn’t have the comfortable life that we currently do. However, many would die, especially those who couldn’t adapt to the new reality.
The big problem here is that we’d be in a race against starvation. The amount of time required to restore the grid is much greater than the time required for people to start dying off from starvation. Unless individuals, families and community groups could develop means of producing their own food, before their on-hand stocks ran out, they would all starve.
Official estimates from the EMP commission say that 90 percent of the population would die off within a year. Since the overall effect of any nationwide loss of the grid is the same, we could say the same for cyber-warfare and terrorism. With that high a percentage of the population dying off, it’s doubtful that the grid could be restored at all.
What Can You Do?
As I mentioned at the beginning of this article,the key to our vulnerability is our dependence on the vast infrastructure that we’ve built. If we were not dependent on the infrastructure, then we would not be at risk of losing everything when if the grid goes down. While you and I can’t do a thing about the nation’s dependence on a whole, we can do something about our personal dependence on it, so that we can survive if the grid goes down.
At the same time, we want to take advantage of the infrastructure as long as we can. So, our self-sufficiency doesn’t necessarily mean total isolation from society and the benefits that society provides. Actually, we need those benefits in order to prepare.
Becoming fully self-sufficient is too obvious in our modern society. While many of the things that bring about self-sufficiency are widely accepted and even applauded, going totally off-grid is not. People who do are looked at suspiciously and even attacked by the government. We don’t want to get to that point, as that would totally negate any OPSEC we have.
Nevertheless, if we don’t put the mechanisms in place for an off-grid lifestyle, we will be in as bad a shape as everyone else, when and if the grid goes down. So, it’s definitely worthwhile putting in the effort to make ourselves self-sufficient, at least enough that we will be able to survive.
Since the loss of electrical power is the major problem we’ll face, it only makes sense to start with developing some off-grid power of our own. Many people are doing this today as an effort to “go green,” so adding off-grid power to our home isn’t suspicious.
There are two main methods of off-grid power that are commonly used; solar and wind. Both are "green energy," making them popular with our liberal friends. This provides us with the benefit of tax credits, which come and go with the winds of Washington. As far as I'm concerned, any tax credit is a benefit; I don't mind the government helping me pay to be prepared at all.
The big problem with off-grid power is the cost. Putting in enough solar panels to power your home is a major investment. When I priced it, they quoted me $56,000 for enough solar panels to meet my electrical needs.While they were more than willing to loan me the money and allow me to make payments, I wouldn’t want to take on that additional debt. However, you don’t necessarily need to install enough panels to power your whole home, merely your critical power usage.
People commonly ask whether solar or wind power is better. Both have their advantages and disadvantages. Since both are dependent on the weather, you need to pick out which one will work best for the area you live in. For most people, a combination of the two is best, if they will both work where you live.
Any alternative power system needs to be connected to a battery backup system. This will allow you to use your electronic devices, even when there isn’t enough sunlight or wind to produce electricity. You will also need to install a whole house switch, so that you can disconnect your home from the grid. Failure to do this will cause all your electrical power to go into the grid, where it won’t do you any good.
Since city water will be down, you’ll need some sort of alternate water source. Stockpiling water is good, but it’s a losing proposition. There’s no way that you can stockpile enough water to meet all your needs over an extended period of time. So, you need some means of gathering water. That usually means either rainwater capture or a well.
Rainwater capture is not legal in all states, so you need to check before doing it. However, even if it is illegal in your state, it’s worthwhile creating the system or at least having the materials on hand. That way, when the time comes, you can put it in place. I doubt anyone will be checking your home and writing you a citation for rainwater collection once the grid goes down.
A well is a more expensive means of water harvesting than a rainwater capture system, but it is also more reliable. Even when there isn’t much rain, there will be water in the ground. Just be sure to drill your well deep enough that it will supply you with water, even through the dry periods.
The other thing you’ll need for your well is a manual pump, unless you decide to power it off your off-grid electrical power system. Even then, having a manual pump is not a bad idea as a backup. Water is so important, you should have the redundancy.
Of course, any water that you harvest, whether by rainwater capture, getting it from a local lake or from your well should be run through a water purification system, before using it. You can’t take the risk of using water that hasn’t been purified and without taking that step, you have no way of knowing if the water is truly safe to drink.
You also need to consider dealing with waste water. If you have a septic tank, that’s not a big issue for you. Your septic system will work without city water. You can use grey water for flushing the toilet, reducing your overall water consumption. But if you are on city sewers, you won’t be able to use your toilet or for that matter your bathtub, after the first few weeks or days.
Your other major need is going to be food production. Even if you have a large food stockpile, you’re going to need to find ways of augmenting it. That stockpile will only last so long, which probably isn’t enough to last the rest of your life.
Growing your own food is the only real answer. A large vegetable garden and a few fruit trees is a good starting point. That will provide you with a lot of your needed nutrients. You should also have some means of growing animal protein, whether by raising chickens, rabbits, fish or some other animals.
You’ll actually need to put this in place before the grid goes down. Not only will it be virtually impossible to put these in place once the grid goes down, but there’s a definite learning curve in growing your own food. You’ll need time to learn how to grow enough food, before you need it. Not being able to grow enough is almost as bad as not growing any at all.
Living Without Electricity
While going off-grid for power, water and food is a good start, there are many other things that will have to chance in our lives, in order to survive without the grid. Basically, we’ll have to come up with a replacement for everything that we use electrical power for. Looking back at that list I created, that’s a lot of things that we will need some sort of replacement for. However, if we are producing our own off-grid electrical power, we will at least be able to manage a few of these things on our own.
To start with, if we assume that our off-grid electrical power production is going to be less than what we need to run everything in our homes, we need to prioritize on using it for the most critical areas. Those include:
- Medical Equipment – If any family member needs life support equipment to live, that has to be our number one priority.
- Refrigeration – Keeping your food fresh will help eliminate waste, allowing your limited food stocks to go farther.
- Lighting – It’s a good idea to have rechargeable batteries and use them in all your flashlights and headlamps. For home lighting, installing LED bulbs is a great idea, providing as much light as CFLs, with much less power consumption.
- Tools – There may be times when you need to use power to run tools, in order to build things you need and make repairs.
Unless you have a lot of electrical power generating capability, you probably won’t be able to provide heating and cooling in your home. Those are the biggest power consumers in most homes, especially cooling. Just producing enough electrical power for a room air conditioner requires a lot of solar panels, let alone producing enough for your whole house.
So that leaves us having to use alternate means for pretty much everything else that we’re accustomed to using electricity for. Keep in mind that our ancestors managed to live just fine without electricity, so if they could, we can too.
- Heating – The most common solution to this problem, throughout history, is burning wood. With a fireplace or wood burning stove, you’ll be able to keep at least part of your home warm enough to live in.
- Cooling – This is the most difficult. Make good use of shade and naturally occurring breeze. You can manage some cooling with evaporative cooling, which can be operated manually, especially if you live in an area with low humidity.
- Refrigeration – The best alternate form of refrigeration is a root cellar. Evaporative cooling is an option as well, such as using a Zeer Pot.
- Cooking – Cooking, like heating, will have to be done over wood. That means cooking outdoors, as few have a wood burning kitchen stove. However, depending on the design of your fireplace or wood-burning stove, you might be able to use them for cooking as well.
- Hot Water – Like cooking, this will have to be done over wood.
- Washing clothes – All clothes will have to be washed by hand. There are a few manual options available, invented for use in third-world countries or a grid-down situation.
- Light – In addition to flashlights, the old standbys of candles and oil-burning lamps will have to do. Light will have to be rationed, as sources for candles and oil will become scarce.
- Entertainment – People have entertained themselves for millennia without electronics. It will be time to learn some of those old methods.
- Computers – Forget it. Even if you can connect it to your off-grid power source, what would you use it for?
- Security alarms – The best security systems will be dogs, donkeys and guinea hens. At least they are “green” solutions.
As you can see, it will be possible to do everything we need, even without electricity. The problem will be in making the transition. If you are properly prepared, you’ll have the things in place that you’ll need to use in order to survive. If not, you’ll be in trouble.
Many will starve to death after the grid goes down. Sadly, this will basically be their own fault. While society encourages us to be dependent on the whole vast infrastructure that we have in place, that doesn’t eliminate our responsibility for our own lives. Becoming so dependent that we don’t have any means of taking care of ourselves and our families is foolish, especially considering