This Space for Rent

Fun with power outages and ancient computing hardware

We had a hour and a half power outage last night, and when I went down into the basement to restart the server farm (the power outage woke me up, and by the time the lights stopped flickering offffffffff, then on, then offfffffff, then on, then offfffff I was, oddly enough, wide awake, so I took the opportunity to dash down into the basement and plug a UPS into the circuit that powers the servers. I didn't turn the UPS on, because it would have just whimpered gently until it ran out of power, so I just plugged it in and went back to sleep until the thunderous roaring of boxfans announced the return of mains power) the backup server started, ran for a couple of seconds, then shut itself permanently off with the delicate aroma of dead power supply drifting in the air. And then the spare I had down there started up with the unmistakable sound of a fan that had run out of lubricant and was now in the throes of chewing its own hub apart.

It is fortunate, I suppose, that my home computing needs have dropped down to the point where all I need is enough power to run a couple of file servers, so the basement is full of components scavenged from scrapped boxes and I could scrounge a spare power supply for the broken spare power supply.

As an aside, Energytrust gives some pretty tasty incentives for putting solar arrays in, but they require that those arrays be grid-tied. One "feature" of a grid-tie array is that if the grid is down and it's not the middle of the day, you don't have any power. At 3:19am, I'd imagine that it would be difficult to feel particularly happy about the earthy-crunchiness of a grid-tie system when you're wandering around the house by the light of a 4-led flashlight.


Tieing the arrays into the grid doesn’t keep you from having battery backup. It’s an even better deal, since you can sell the PV power at peak midday prices and charge the batteries at low midnight rates.

Francois Mon Jul 24 15:27:41 2006

You’re right; there isn’t anything mechanically stopping you from setting up a battery bank, except possibly capacity issues. I don’t think that any of the power companies pay time of day rates to third parties who cogenerate (as a matter of fact, I don’t think very many of them pay at all, but just let you bank the returned kwh for later use.

Nobody seems to have a cogeneration+batteries setup, presumably under the idea that the grid will be reliable enough to act as a battery all the time (and if you use it as a battery, it doesn’t have the chemical energy losses you get from storing the electricity in your own batteries.)

David Parsons Mon Jul 24 18:49:30 2006

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