Wednesday, October 31, 2012

Power outages and energy efficiency...

Just like many folks on the east coast, we lost power due to Hurricane Sandy. Thankfully, we were prepared this time, due to the Halloween storm last year. When there's no electricity the priorities are having the necessities working: refrigeration and heat. This is all we had turned on aside from a few chargers (batteries, laptops and phones), given that my Honda EU2000i generator only provides 2,000 watts of power.

One of the selling points of the HP N40L Micro Server, to me, was the energy efficiency. This difference shows up in the monthly bill and it's not the only product I own with such a selling point. My whole house, in fact, is powered by very energy efficient ("Energy Star") appliances and most of the house is lit with CFL bulbs.

Last night I decided to hook up a Kill-A-Watt to the main line going from the generator into the house to see how much power we're using, since my wife wanted to have the lights in the bathroom to bathe our son. To my surprise, our usage was really minimal, well under 100-watts. Sure, that's fine while the oil boiler and the fridge aren't running, but when those kick on they'll use lots of power, right? Well, according to what I've seen not quite. For example, the LG fridge only seems to use 150watts while running and shoots up to 450 watts on start-up.Much better than I expected.

So the next thought was: let's start flipping breakers on to see how much more the generator can support. All I can say is, the generator has been running in ECO mode for the past 42-plus-hours, sipping only ~3-4 gallons of fuel while my whole house is lit up like a Christmas tree.

It would be easier to list the few appliances we can't use than those we can, but I'd like to list them out to make a point. We currently have the following running (and 95% of it is in ECO mode):
  • Refridgirator
  • Oil boiler for heat/hot water
  • Portable induction stove to heat up food/water/etc.
  • Two laptops
  • HP N40L MicroServer (still recording TV)
  • Cable modem, wireless router and gigabit switch
  • All lights and outlets are powered up
  • Phone/battery chargers
  • 63" Samsung plasma TV w/Yamaha receiver, wireless headset and Samsung Media Live MCE
  • Keurig coffee maker (this one is the worst @ 1200watts when boiling water)
  • Bathroom exhaust vents
  • and many more...

The generator will leave ECO mode when the fridge kicks in (couple of seconds every 30-60minutes), when the boiler turns on (30-60 seconds about twice per day), when Keurig is boiling water (couple minutes once per day) or when we're cooking with the induction stove.

Bottom line is that I'm really surprised that we have everything we need and even a many things we don't all functioning with so little power. Additionally, unless we're cooking, there's plenty of headroom to have all of the above running all at the same time.

In the past, my goal has been to possibly purchase a second Honda EU2000i Companion to link them and provide up to 4,000 watts of power (in addition to redundancy); but I've just never been able to justify the price tag of another unit given how rarely we lose power. Well, after doing a bit of testing with the Kill-A-Watt meter I'm very comfortable sticking with a single unit.

One caveat must be mentioned: because I'm running my generator in ECO mode most of the time when a huge surge goes on from an appliance asking for power there's a slight drop in power which can be seen as lights dimming. The power supply in a computer, TV and other major electronics have no problems dealing with that. They just keep on humming. However, the power supplies in small electronics such as routers and switches may force a reboot of the device. This hasn't been a problem in my case because I've moved all of those devices to get power from APC Back-UPS 550. Normally this serves to power the cable modem, wireless router and the HP N40L server to allow it to gracefully shut down, but I ran an extension cord from it to my office, which has the gigabit switch for the whole-home-Media-Center and it's been perfect.

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