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Nashua;28.0;http://forecast.weather.gov/images/wtf/small/sct.png;2014-11-28 09:30:23
Monday, November 5, 2012

Why do backup generators fail so often? (Hint: Why can't you start your lawnmower in the spring?)

BoingBoing has an excellent discussion about why backup generators are so often unreliable, shown most startingly in their failure at a New York City hospital after Hurricane Sandy, forcing the evacuation of hundreds of sick people.

The answer is predictable to anybody who works with engines: They're used so seldom that they don't get serviced.

The better answer, as the article notes, is that our electric grid is such a one-way behemoth that it's almost impossible to share power among backup generators at different sites, reducing our ability to cope with such failures:

A microgrid would change that, enabling areas the size of neighborhoods to operate independently in the event of an emergency. "Your backup generators are tied together and then you can redirect power from where it's available ... say at a bank ... to a hospital, or a fire station, or someplace more critical," Zimmerle said.

Changing this isn't just a matter of technology, however; it also requires changing regulations and financial contracts, which is hard.

You can read the whole thing here.