Whether you live in Toronto, Canada or Taipei, Taiwan power failures are a fact of modern life.
But don’t worry — there is light at the end of this particular tunnel. When the neighborhood goes dark, your digital life (and business) doesn’t have to stop dead in its tracks.
According to Department of Energy records, between 2002 and 2006, power failures became increasingly frequent and affected more people. The Edison Power Research Institute of Palo Alto, Calif., the research arm of the electrical utility industry, said in a 2001 report that the toll from power failures is nearly $46 billion a year in damage and lost work.
Blackouts are caused by a variety of reasons, from a worn out transformer on a power pole down the street or an overloaded feeder cable across the state to a power-plant problem hundreds of miles away.
And summertime, which is thunderstorm season in some parts of the country and AC-overload season in others, seems to bring more than its share of blackouts and brownouts. But while enterprise server farms and data centers have backup power, the chances are that you and I — and our computer systems — will be left in the dark.
Some things, like local networks, TVs and desktop computers, shut down right away. Others, like cell phones, notebooks and digital media players, will follow when their batteries run out.
It doesn’t have to be that way. With the right strategy and equipment, you can laugh at an electricity outage and stay connected, regardless of whether you’re watching an episode of “House” online, sending e-mails or finishing that killer presentation.
You also might want to check out these 10 power-saving myths. Also telecommuters can take away these five chilly lessons from icestorms.
We’ve assembled 12 gizmos and gadgets that can help keep you connected even when your AC outlets go dead. Some are easy and inexpensive, like emergency lighting or an uninterruptible power supply for a desktop PC.
Others are harder to install and more expensive, like a backup generator for a home or office.
However you decide to prepare, you may want to take a good look at these products. They could offer you some good ways to keep a power failure from knocking you offline.
Personal power plant
Generac QuietSource Series 22 KW With your own backup generator, power can continue to flow, even during a power failure for always-on electricity. But be warned: Getting a backup generator can be pricey.
Generac’s QuietSource 22 is always on stand-by, waiting for the power utility to leave you in the dark. It monitors the incoming power, senses when it’s about to fail, starts up the generator and replaces the electricity with its own. Unfortunately, there’s a lag of a couple of seconds before it can kick in, so getting an uninterruptible power supply for your PC or server is a good idea.
The QuietSource 22 is rated to deliver 22 kilowatts, which should be fine for a small office. Inside the generator is a four-cylinder engine that drives an alternator to create power that’s the same as the juice your utility delivers. Because QuietSource generators run at the comparatively low speed of 1,800 RPMs, the manufacturer asserts that they are not as loud as other power products.
Unfortunately, working off the grid is an expensive proposition, with generators of this size starting at a little under $8,000.
It’s just the start, because you’ll need to have it mounted outside and you’ll need to pay an electrician wire it to your infrastructure and a plumber to connect a natural gas line or liquefied propane tanks to fuel it. All told, it’s a hefty investment, but think of the pleasure of having the lights on during the next outage.
Available from: Multiple vendors
Duracell Powerpack 600 If a full-size generator is too much, but you still need to keep working when the lights go out, sometimes all you need is enough electricity for your notebook. Duracell’s Powerpack 600 can do that and, at 30 pounds, it can be carried from room to room as needed.
The Powerpack has three AC outlets and one for a 12-volt cigarette lighter device. There’s also a light, an AM-FM radio and it can even start your car’s dead battery with its built-in 2-foot-long jumper cables.
The Powerpack 600’s sealed lead-acid battery can dole out up to 480 watts of continuous power; the system’s LCD display shows how much power is being used. When it’s charged up, the Powerpack 600 should be able to run a notebook and cell phone for up to two days, according to the company. Keep in mind that these batteries will lose their charge over time, so it’s a good idea to plug it in every so often so it’s ready for the next power failure.
Available from: Multiple vendors
Price: $180 – $200
Freeplay Energy Weza Can’t remember to keep your batteries charged? According to Freeplay, you can charge a notebook, cell phone or other digital gizmo with nothing more than the effort expended to stomp on the Weza’s Portable Energy Source.
The device, which is essentially a glorified foot pedal, looks like a soccer ball pump, but can deliver up to 40 watts of power at 12 volts, perfect for a notebook or handheld gadget during a power outage. It has a lead-acid battery that stores the power and an LED display bar that shows Weza’s charge level.
For more sedentary types, the Weza can be charged by an AC adapter or with a car’s cigarette lighter outlet.
At $300, the Weza is a bit pricey, but if having your notebook, phone or iPod available during a long blackout is important, it’s well worth it. And it will help keep you fit.
Available from: Freeplay Energy
Back-UPS ES 550 The worst part about a power failure is that it always seems to happen before you’ve backed up your system — and there never seems to be enough time to save your data and safely shut down your PC before it goes dark. Using a notebook with a built-in battery is a good idea, but a desktop uninterruptible power supply (UPS), like APC’s Back-UPS ES 550, can give you valuable time to shut down a desktop so that not a byte of precious data is lost.
It may look like a surge suppressor power strip, but inside the Back-UPS ES 550 is a sealed lead-acid battery that can deliver up to 330 watts of power. That should be enough juice to power a PC and monitor for approximately 13 minutes. On top of eight AC outlets, there are plugs for phone, DSL and network cables. The UPS comes with a 3-year warranty and is money well spent, particularly in light of APC’s $75,000 guarantee against power-related damage.
Available from: Multiple vendors
Price: $46 – $90
Power on the go
Energizer Energi To Go
Ecosol’s PowerStick Universal Charger
Iogear’s GearPower – Mobile Pocket
Here’s a nightmare that I’m sure many remote workers have had: You’re in the middle of a big project, the lights go out — and you can’t call the power company to complain because your phone has a dead battery.
A rechargeable external battery pack, like Ecosol’s PowerStick Universal Charger (bottom left) and Iogear’s GearPower – Mobile Pocket Power (bottom right), can help provide precious power for your phone. Both devices come with a variety of connectors for popular phones and other mobile electronic gadgets, along with a display that shows how much power is left.
Both devices are themselves powered by being connected to a household outlet. So if you’ve forgotten to charge your chargers, what will you do in a power failure? Energizer’s Energi To Go (top) emergency chargers use disposable AA cells to juice up a phone or music player.
There are several Energi To Go products available for charging a USB phone, an iPod or a variety of Palm, Samsung, LG and Nokia phones.
Each costs less than $20 and comes with a set of high-output lithium batteries. Just slip in a pair of AA cells and plug it into your phone or music player — you can use the phone or music player immediately and get a couple of charges out of a set of batteries. According to the company, it can run an iPod Nano for nearly four days straight, longer than any power failure I’ve had to endure.
Energi To Go available from: Multiple vendors
Price: $13 – $28
Powerstick available from: Multiple vendors
Price: $50 – $60
GearPower available from: Iogear
Computing in your car
Kensington Auto Power Inverter As a veteran of several summer power failures, I’ve found that there’s often no better place to work than in my car.
It has a stereo, air conditioning, some very comfortable seats and can hit the road when I get sick of the scenery. PowerBright’s CW150 (top) can provide up to 150 watts of continuous power to run a notebook, power a reading light or charge a cell phone while working. Its power cord plugs into the car’s cigarette lighter outlet and has both an AC outlet and a powered USB connector.
If you want something even smaller than PowerBright’s 4.5 x 0.75 x 3 in. box, Kensington’s $40 Auto Power Inverter (bottom) is smaller and plugs right into the cigarette lighter jack. It delivers 75 watts of continuous power, which is half of that provided by the PowerBright device, but should be enough for a notebook and phone.
So they don’t damage your gear or car, both products are protected against a thermal or electrical overload and are great emergency methods of turning your car into an office suite. That is, as long as you don’t run out of gas.
PowerBright available from: Multiple vendors
Auto Power Inverter available from: Kensington Computer Products Group
Here are 20 tips n’ tricks to extend your smartphone’s battery life
Create your own hotspot
Novatel Wireless MiFi 2200 Okay, your house has gone dark, but you’ve got a few hours left on your notebook battery. Think you’re home free? Think again — with the power off, there’s no way to run the router. So how do you blog about the blackout? Well, why not create your own Wi-Fi hotspot?
Novatel’s MiFi 2200 weighs only 2 ounces and is about the size of a stack of credit cards, yet it can bring data in over an EVDO 3G data link with a cell network and send that data out over its 802.11b/g router. It can support up to 5 Wi-Fi devices at once and has the latest encryption technology to keep bandwidth thieves and hackers at bay. MiFi’s built-in battery can run the hot spot for about 4 hours, according to its maker.
Don’t forget to bone up on these mobility options for SMBs.
Available from: Sprint and Verizon Wireless
Price: $100 (after a $50 rebate) with a two-year contract for data services that cost between $40 and $60 a month
Let there be light
Indigo LED Lantern Why is it that power failures happen more often at night — and when your flashlight batteries are dead? Don’t worry — Freeplay’s Indigo Lantern can light up a room for five minutes after you’ve cranked its wind-up handle for a minute (or longer on a lower setting).
Don’t need the exercise? Indigo’s nickel-metal hydride cells can also be charged with either a computer’s USB outlet or an AC adapter (when the power’s on, of course). If you need to use the crank, you won’t have to exhaust yourself — the generator is 75% efficient, which means you need to crank the handle fewer times than you would have to for less efficient generators. And according to the company, it can run for several days on a full charge.
Indigo’s light comes from seven bright white LEDs; the lantern has a dimmable switch so that you won’t be wasting any light. The lighting elements are rated to last for 100,000 hours of use or about 11 years of continuous use.
At $42, Indigo saves you money compared to flashlights that use throw-away batteries — and assures you that you’re doing the right green thing.
Available from: Freeplay Energy
Emergency Portable Weather Radio Many power failures are attributable to high winds that knock down power lines, ice storms that weigh down and break those lines or summer heat taxing the electrical grid to the breaking point.
Oregon Scientific’s $50 Emergency Portable Weather Radio (model WR601) can help you stay in touch with cold fronts and tornado warnings. It tunes into the government’s Emergency Alert System and Weather Band broadcasts that repeat the local forecast, day and night.
Unlike most clunky, oversized weather radios, the WR501 weighs 4.5 ounces, has a large LCD screen and comfortably fits into the palm of a hand; it comes with a handy belt clip. The radio is always ready for a blackout because its base charges the radio. And the WR601 doubles as an alarm clock so you won’t be late for work, even if there’s no power at home.