Power outage

I'm sitting here in the dark and freezing. No, not really. It's not dark yet and it's hot and humid. But I have no power, except what's left in this laptop. Can't connect to the net because I use wifi at home and the router is electrical (if I get really desperate I'll crawl up to the study and huddle in back of my desk and connect with ethernet but I don't think even I am that much of a slave to being online. Actually I am, but I'm too tired). So what happened?

Mrs. R. and I are sitting here together, each of us reading, on a very warm, sort of sunny Sunday afternoon and we hear a tremendous noise, almost like a car crash. The lights go out for a moment in the kitchen, then come on again. After about ten seconds again the horrendous noise. Five seconds later again. I stagger out in front of the house and see a cloud of smoke drifting down the street at the end of the block. I head over that way, encounter a pedestrian (we live off a very busy thoroughfare with lots of noisy traffic), who says he saw it. "It" was a fire in a transformer atop a pole. The noise was an arc over. There is nothing to see now except some charred pole and even less to see in the house because the power is out in the whole neighborhood.

Power is shipped around over distances from the point of generation using very high voltage and low current. That way there is minimal resistive loss in the power lines. But since most people don't have appliances that run at 200,000 volts or 40,000 volts or whatever the high tension lines used in that particular system (I can't look it up because I have no power), there is a series of step down transformers that exchange voltage for current as it gets closer to the consumer. The larger of these for a section of the city are called substations, but even these produce too high a voltage. By the time the electricity gets to your neighborhood it still needs to be stepped down from 4000 volts to the user level, 220 volts. That happens close to your house, in a city, typically via a transformer about the size of a trash can mounted on a utility pole. That was the beast that burned out and took our power with it.

Pretty soon after it happened the fire department showed up. They looked around and I have to show them the transformer. They call the electric company and then leave. The traffic lights are also out in the busy intersection 50 feet from our house, so about ten minutes after that a couple of cruisers showed up and police started directing traffic. That was about 90 minutes ago.

I just went outside to see what was happening. Nothing. No electric company. I asked one of the police officers if there's any action yet and he says, "no." He's plainly disgusted. It's hot out there. Did he know when they might arrive? In about three hours, he says. It's now 6 pm here and there's enough light to see in the living room but the kitchen is mostly dark. We have a gas stove so Mrs. R. threw on some skirt steak. I had bought a baguette on the way back from my afternoon walk to the bookstore (where I bought $80 dollars worth of mathematics books, which I now can't see to read, which is OK because it would take me about 3 months to completely read either of them). So we'll have a good but simple dinner and then figure out what to do.

The good news is I got myself an iPad at work and it has incredible battery life. I could run it continuously for another 10 hours, watching movies (can't surf the net because wifi is out). The bad news is that despite my son's recommendation to get netflix I didn't do it and so we have no movies or anything else to watch. Any other time I could drive over to his house and get his netflix account number and use his wifi -- except he is off to the UK this weekend visiting a scientific collaborator at the University of Liverpool. We can't even build a fire and cuddle up because it's like a hundred and something fucking degrees here.

So if you are reading this, either the power was finally restored or I . . .

SHAZAM! Just as I was typing those words (this is literally true; they would have continued something like, "went to a Starbucks") the power came back on! I just went out to chat with the guy on the emergency truck (my late father-in-law used to work on a gas company emergency truck, so I like to talk to these guys) and he drew me some circuit diagrams and explained what they were going to do for the next several hours. The power is temporarily restored while they re-routed the circuit around the bad transformer by throwing a bunch of switches and breakers on various poles nearby, but they have to replace the bad section to fix it completely.

Power restored. Maybe I'll cuddle with Mrs. R. anyway. Not in front of the fire but in front of the TV. I'm very modern.

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LOL, two `flu' bloggers, 1000 miles apart, both suffer an extended power outage on the same Sunday Afternoon.

What are the odds?

A pity I'm not into conspiracy theories . . .

Often it can be very difficult to trace where a fault is, which is why it is important to tell the power company when you witness the outage, they might have no other way to locate it. When I lived in Belmont, once the power went out several times during the night, a windy, rainy night.

During one of the outages I saw the flash followed by a bang and the power went out. I called the power company to let them know, and that call was instrumental in them figuring out where the fault was.

It was an 18 kV 10,000 ampere circuit, A branch was blowing across the line and flashing over, about a 2 foot length. It was an intermittant fault, the branch fell across the line, it flashed over, the circuit breakers trippeed, and the power company had no idea where it was happening. They reset the breakers a number of times, hoping eventually that they would find out where the fault was.

He found the branch and I took it into my children's school so they could see what messing with high voltage power lines does to things.