Our Visit From Sandy

November 2012

I must point out first that Sandy was never invited to come and visit us, she just took it upon herself to call by.

This Sandy that visited us was a rather nasty hurricane that made straight for New Jersey. We had prepared for her arrival – we purchased food that could be cooked on the gas hob, charged the cars up until they were bursting with electrons, put away any lightweight objects outside, moved some things from upstairs in case a tree should want to lay on the house for a rest. And then we waited.

The day of her arrival was calm but, there was definitely something in the air, you knew something was going to happen, but when? As the wind began to pick up late Monday afternoon we knew things were not going to be good. As it went dark the wind picked up its pace significantly. Against the night sky you could see the silhouette of the trees moving in the wind. Remind me – why were we allowing Sandy to visit?

At 7:30pm, sudden darkness – the electricity was gone, the power was out.

It’ll be okay, we stocked up on something called petrol for the generator, enough for four days – as with the previous two storms. No problem, could be quite fun really!

As the evening wore on and the wind became more ferocious, I wasn’t liking the sound of it at all, there was a lot of creaking and snapping sounds. The night sky was lit up with exploding transformers – this was not good. All I could think of was a night of no sleep as thoughts of trees coming down and hitting the house were a little too vivid in my mind.

Tuesday morning – it was surprisingly calm, the wind was gone and Sandy had moved on to visit someone else. We had minimal damage to the house and the trees were still where they were supposed to be, we’d been lucky in that respect as I know a lot of people had suffered some major damage. We went out for a walk around our street and we certainly wouldn’t be going anywhere in the cars, not that day anyway. There were wires, trees and broken poles down all over the place. Lots of people were out surveying the aftermath of our visit from Sandy. I do not think Sandy is very nice and still cannot understand the need for a visit.

So began our time with no electricity. The petrol powered generator had enough fuel for at least four days and we used it to power the refrigerator and the lights for a bit in the late afternoon. Our hot water soon ran out and with no electricity to heat anymore up, it meant boiling pans of water for washing. After lights out at night we’d play Monopoly by LED battery light in front of the gas fire. Hey, how come you suddenly have hotels on all your properties?

With the schools closed we didn’t need to venture out at all. People with petrol cars were panicking as the petrol stations had lost power – no electricity to run the pumps. I think most people forgot that you need electricity to pump the petrol. When we did venture out on day four with our 300 miles of total range intact, we drove past long lines of people waiting to get fuel for their cars and for their generators – no fun for anyone.

As we neared the end of our first week with no power, we heard that classes were to resume for our daughter and that meant lots of driving to get her to and from class at Rutgers. We needed to be able to charge the cars up and we were fortunate enough to locate a charging station just 30 minutes walk from our house. It was open and free to the public, oh thank you company ‘C’. This is brilliant, drive the car there, plug in, walk home, wait for a couple of hours, walk back and get the car. Nobody else is using it so it works out well and we get an hours worth of exercise!

We had been using this charging station for three days when we received an email telling us there’d been a mistake, it wasn’t supposed to be open to the public, it was solely intended for the private use of company ‘C’. It was promptly switched off. What! We had no electricity, no one was using the charging station and you are turning it off. Oh thanks a lot, glad you care when we are really in a time of need. Letter sent to CEO… that was almost 3 weeks ago, unsurprisingly no response at all. To quote our friend Mary,

The world is watching you“.

Without the compassion of Company ‘C’, our nearest charging station is a 30 minute drive away at Rutgers. We were going there anyway to drop off our daughter but it means we are stuck there whilst the car charges – it’s just a little bit too far to walk home. The people at the CAIT building are wonderful, they were more than happy for us to charge there, they offered us coffee (don’t personally drink coffee but it’s the thought that counts) and somewhere to sit if we wanted (take note CEO of Company ‘C’!). Charging takes a long time, 3 hours at least and we lose part of that on the 14 mile journey home.  We didn’t turn the heat on to conserve the battery but eventually our fingers were so cold that we could no longer feel them, so reluctantly turned on the heat and winced as the battery percentage went down even quicker.

Day 9: Seriously? It’s snowing!

A huge thank you to Rutgers for allowing us to charge whenever we liked and for as long as we needed to do. A huge boo to company ‘C’, I hope you are feeling good about yourself. Why did you put the charging station in if no one is allowed to charge and no one that works there is using it? Let me know when you have an answer.

We survived thirteen days without electricity, the first four days were kind of fun, but by day six, enough was enough! We were stuck with not being able to charge the cars easily – we are spoilt, it is so nice to be able to plug them in when you need to. But, saying that, we did manage quite well. The Tesla Roadster gave us 240 miles worth of driving and we were lucky in that we could easily cover the essentials. We used the ActiveE to go to and from Rutgers charging up on each journey. We were never left stranded.

For the next time that one of Sandy’s friends visits, and I know there will be a next time, we are putting in a whole house generator, one that is powered by natural gas, something that has less of an environmental impact than that of diesel or gasoline. It will have enough power to charge the cars and heat the hot water – just the necessities.

We had thought about using the cars to power the house and we read how some people have done just that with their converted prii. However, two problems exist at the moment – one, we don’t have a suitable connector to do that and two, if we used up the cars batteries and then needed to go somewhere… we would be stuck!

One other thing that we noticed, as we charged up at Rutgers, we tried to imagine what life would look like if all of the cars in the car park were electric. With each car programmed to charge up through the day, the load would be huge and the investment significant. But, they’d only need that if the power was out at home. A future of electric cars will not add a load to the grid in the way that we’ve all thought about and that detractors cite: “Not enough power”. We know that’s rubbish but, what the grid will need to be is something that it isn’t today – Dependable.