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Dealing with 11 Hour Brownouts in Paradise

Dealing with 11 Hour Brownouts in Paradise

You never know what to expect in the Philippines. Sometimes it’s a shabu, meth, dealer that is firing his weapon at a next door neighbor. Other times it could be your niece that has decided to shack up with the son of Jesus. Or it could be my father-in-law, afflicted with dementia, who lives with us and has physically attacked me twice this past week. Our current crisis is dealing with 11 hour brownouts in paradise, the mandated rotational power outages that have hit our mango island province, Guimaras. The scheduled brownouts, from 6 am to 11 pm, hit our area every other day and great impact our daily life.

Visitors to Raymen Beach in Guimaras

But though they say you can’t teach an old dog new tricks, this 62-year-old geezer is making adjustments along with the rest of my family at “The Farm,” our enclave in rural Guimaras, to deal with these outages caused by some moron that dropped an anchor from their ship on the undersea cable from Iloilo to Guimaras that provides our electricity. This incident happened in mid-July and there is no estimated time as to when we will have full power again. Maybe not until the Second Coming.

The Kano, Papa Duck, Sainted Patient Wife and Ann

(Relaxing at The Farm with Papa Duck and our spiffy spouses in the old days when I could drink beer)

I’ve been up since 2 am this morning, tweaking the ad copy for Volume 2 of my E-book, “The Philippines Expat Advisor,” and working on this new story. I have less than two hours before the power gets shut off. I will have to wait until 11 pm until our electricity comes back but I’ve got it easy.

My poor asawa got up at 3 am and started running our washer. Today is laundry day and my hardworking spouse, along with our helper, Mera, and niece, Shaina, who I woke up at 4 am, are getting started washing clothes before the brownout begins.

On top of that, we haven’t had any running water for the past 24 hours. Our concrete water tank was cleaned the other day and our caretaker, Gerry, discovered it now has a leak. Gerry had to empty the tank and lay down a new layer of cement on the tank floor. He’s at our house right now, at 4:30 am, turning the water back on and checking to see how good our water pressure is.

You learn to adjust to events that you have absolutely no control over. Why the Philippine Coast Guard does not do a better job of monitoring vessels around the seas of Iloilo and Guimaras is beyond me. The impact that it has on the quality of life for residents of Guimaras, especially the business owners, is staggering.

Mera’s family is not impacted much, however, by the outages. They don’t have power and never have. Our helper, a relative, lives near the main road about 15 minutes from us. The caretaker of the land, Cousin Alex, the foreman who supervised the building of my wife’s first home, “The Compound,” and now out on bail for murder,  has finally consented to allow our local utility to put up power lines on the property.

The Compound in Guimaras

The Compound

We saw Alex the other day whizzing by on a tricycle as my wife and I made the 45-minute trek to pay a cable bill. But nobody argues with Alex, though many residents on the property wanted electricity,  Alex didn’t. Without his permission, no electrical hook-ups could be installed until now.

But fat good that will do anyone until the undersea cable can be repaired. So you wait. And wait. Since I cannot swim, let alone dive, I can’t help the repair team fix the undersea cable so I’ll keep busy with other chores and keep an eye on Lolo. And believe me, that’s a full time job in itself!

22 thoughts on “Dealing with 11 Hour Brownouts in Paradise

  1. Dave,
    You don’t appreciate electricity and water until you don’t have it. I learned that quick from the recent typhoon. And we were fortunate to get the power on when we did because the President of the HomeownersAssociation is friends with a supv at the local power company. One good thing that came out of that. Our electric bill was only 863p. The biggest thing I appeciate is our hardworking asawas keeping the household running no matter what the conditions are.

    • 863 pesos? That’s pretty good, Papa Duck. Our recent bill was just over 1900 pesos and that’s with no air con. But I’m told that our local power company has one of the highest rates in the Philippines. Hate to see what the next bill will be like since they’re getting the power from a third party. The latest rates were 13.81 kwph, 14.52 in June.

  2. Since you will soon be starting your new home, have you thought about going on and buying a generator. You could use it now, it sounds like, then move it to your new house as a backup for when the power goes off. If you havent already Dave, look into installing a generator panel in your new house. Its a easy way that just by flipping a couple switches when tho power is off, you can have power to whatever circuits you might need to have power, when the power is off, like the water pump, kitchen, refrig, etc. Even though you cant use all circuits all at the same time,(unless you buy a pretty big generator)you can install more circuits than you may actually need, then flip it on,and turn another one off, its so easy to do when you building a new house. I plan to bring mine with me when we move, since its a Honda I figure parts might be available there for it. A 3000watt size will operate most things, as long as you watch the load and make sure not too many things are going at once, the generator will let you know if its overloaded.
    Diesel ones are not very popular here, because of the cost and they weigh significantly more than gas ones, but diesel is defiantly the best choice in my opinion, since diesel there is cheaper than gas, unlike here.

    I am a spoiled american, so gotta have some of my comforts even though the power is off, hopefully that will change some once I get there though.

    • Well, Bill S, my wife and I had a discussion regarding a generator at the new place before the cable cut. Before the cut, we were only having about three or four brownouts a month and lasting from one to three hours. I can tolerate that. But with the new situation and with the possibility of some other moron on a ship dropping an anchor on the cable, we have to rethink the whole situation. My brother-in-law tells me that the repairs cannot be done until divers from Japan are brought in.

      Your generator panel idea for the new place is an excellent one. I doubt that we will purchase a new generator before the move since when November rolls around, we are going to finally buy a vehicle, a new 4-wheel drive truck which we will need during the rainy season to get to the new property (we have an Aussie friend that has a farm down the road from us at the new location and the road gets really tough to handle during this time of year.)

    • Bill, I have a 5500kw and it gets bogged down from time to time. I can run two A/C’s and the ref and all other things, but cannot operate the hot water heaters or microwave oven, even with one A/C running. The microwave or water heater can put quite a load on it. 3000kw cannot sustain too much other than the ref, and some lights and fans, tv, cell phone chargers, computer. I would recommend at least 5000 for the house as it won’t cost that much more than a 3000. Diesel is the only way to go, unless you like working on gasoline engines constantly.

  3. Dave, some potentially good news. This news article from June 2014 says that the Guimaras windmills project to provide electricity for Guimaras and Iloilo will be operational before June 2015. After that, you won’t have to worry about the electric cables to Iloilo, because they will be used to export electricity from Guimaras instead of importing it from Iloilo. I wonder if the brownouts will pressure them to hasten the construction, or slow them down because they need electricity to do the construction. Only (Filipino) time will tell, hahaha.

    http://www.interaksyon.com/article/89770/guimaras-windmills-project-starts

    • Thanks for the info, Lance. Melinda and I are planning a visit to San Lorenzo soon to check out the project’s progress. It will make a good story and the fact that Guimaras will no longer be dependent on Iloilo for electricity will be great.

      Don’t know if the lack of electricity every other day will slow down the windmill project or not, Lance. I don’t see many construction workers around here using any power tools. Yeah, Filipino time is my major concern. I would be amazed if they met that June 2015 deadline.

  4. This seems like a familiar conversation.

    Your options for power are probably well known. Generator — gasoline or diesel (there is more energy per liter in diesel than gasoline). Solar panels — very expensive and as soon as you put them up a signal goes off at Typhoon Deployment Headquarters (TDHQ) to point right at them.

    Lesser known things are car alternators from junked cars set up to spin in a flowing stream, which doesn’t work very well if you don’t have such a stream.

    Another thing to think about is if you can find junked cars for alternators, you can get their batteries out too, maybe nearly free. These are the very worst batteries to use for uninterrupted power supply, but they will work until they die (which won’t be too very long because they are the worst, call it a year or two). But, you could stack up 20 or 30 batteries that charge when power is off and supply power when it is off. You have to get an inverter to deal with 240 or 120 AC down to 12-15 V DC, but the batteries will probably be nearly free. Paying the guys to cart and carry them may cost more than the batteries.

    Volts X Amperes = watts. Look at your daily kilowatt hour consumption and that will tell you how many batteries you’d need for 12 hrs of power. They hold several hundred ampere-hours per battery at 12 volts. That’s whatever kilowatt hours it is.

    Cumbersome and inelegant, but possibly free and never runs out of gasoline.

    • Yes, Owen, I do remember this conversation, even though I’m an old geezer. We did have a diesel generator at our other home in Guimaras. Whether it still is operable or not, I will have to check with my brother-in-law. He used to run it once a month to keep it operating. Noisier than a next door fiesta, but it’s one option.

      I agree, solar panels are very expensive and aforementioned brother-in-law has a brother or sister in Manila that sells the things. I asked about them last year, but still haven’t heard anything back.

      No junkyards around here like we had back in Central Illinois where they flourished.

      No stream or water source at the new property other than the well that will be dug.

      We use approximately 4.5 kilowatt hours per day. Batteries may be a possible alternative. With the new windmill project in Guimaras scheduled to be completed by June 2015, we might actually not even have a need for a generator or alternate power source. We’ll have to wait and see. Thanks again for the information, Owen.

      • haha I remember the last conversation and the snickers about junkyards. No such thing.

        Where do worn out tires go to die?

        There is no way to do a good comparison of electric consumption for a Philippines house vs US. The quotes for US averages include some houses with electric baseboard heat so that will destroy any possible yardstick.

        4.5 KW-Hrs per day. You have power half a day, so I guess that number is for 1/2 a day. At 220 Volts AC, your house is drawing about 21 amperes on average. When the fridge kicks on and when the microwave is heating, that flow will be higher.

        Most individual house circuits for each room in the US is limited to about 20 Amperes, per room. At 220, I’d guess your circuit breakers trip at 10 Amperes.

        But . . . you want 4.5 Kw Hrs from batteries. A typical car battery has 45 ampere-hours in it, at 12.5ish volts is over half a KW-Hr. So you’d need a battery bank of 10 (10 X 0.5 KW-Hrs = 5 KW Hrs)batteries, which would give you a nice margin of error. Hell, I’d ask for an even dozen from the non-existant junk yard.

        • Thanks, Owen, power just came back on a few minutes ago, another 12 hour brownout. It’s 10:39 pm and I am really hoping that the windmill project on our island will be completed by the end of the year. But I doubt it. I would be willing to even check out the price of batteries and buy them new at this point. Way cheaper than solar panels and a viable option to the solution to our lack of energy on the mango island.

  5. Nod.

    Car batteries are designed to NOT deep cycle. They float along near full charge all the time. This is why they are the worst choice for such an application as yours, because you want to deep discharge them to near empty. Car batteries won’t be happy with this, but the thought was . . . FREE!!! Or nearly free.

    So if you are going to BUY, seriously, then you would want a different kind of battery. The kind that powers small boats, or golf carts. And, of course, you’ll need to arrange the two inverters (or bi directional) to convert 12-15 V DC to 220 VAC 60 Hz. And vice versa for recharging them up after a brownout.

    I will say it is disquieting that I don’t see this spoken of prominently in Phils forums. There have to be electrical engineers who retired there, or ham radio operators. They would have thought of this.

    Ask around. The absence of junkyards may have just led people to NOT think of it.

    • Owen, the reason I believe there are no junkyards is because everyone recycles everything and does not throw anything away (except cheap plastic bags that are tossed anywhere.) I have yet to see an abandoned car on someone’s property or a stack of used tired.

      what about motorcycle batteries? There are tons of motorcycle repair shops on our island province. I just don’t think I’m going to find any used ones or any that someone is going to throw away.

      • I’d say no to motorcycle batteries. Same problem as car batteries. They are designed to furnish huge current for 10 seconds and then get recharged by the alternator.

        This is a different design than for a battery that is intended to be drained to nearly no remaining charge before recharge. So things like little fishing boats running on an electric motor for repositioning while fishing — or golf carts — or Walmart carts — anything designed to be discharged all the way down before recharge.

        This got me curious, actually. I was looking on Amazon for inverters. See, your 4.5 KW Hrs per month averages to less than 200 watts per day, but that won’t be the problem. The fridge or microwave will slam in 1500 watts or more for a few minutes or seconds and a generator or inverter has to endure that slam, so you have to overbuy.

        I want to look at this more thoroughly, but I think you’re looking at $250 for a 3000 watt inverter. For the other direction, charging from house power, there is no need to handle huge power, so a $75 converter will probably work fine for recharge.

        An alternative to supporting the fridge is . . . unplug it. If you’re only browned out for 12 hrs, the food isn’t going to go bad. Takes a day or two for that because they are so well insulated. So just eliminate the fridge from your inverter demands. Maybe propane is how you cook rather than microwave.

        The batteries would then be for lights, puter, TV, internet, shaver, little battery recharging, just anything under 1000 watts (excludes only the fridge, washer, microwave). Then a smaller inverter will be fine.

        Don’t think of this as tacky. A LOT of guys buy generators and think they are set, and the fridge comes on the the generator circuit breaker pops open. Fridges are a problem for everything.

        • Owen, you are a wealth of information. You’re right on the mark with the refrigerator. It’s only two years old and is the most energy efficient model for that brand, Panasonic, at least in the Philippines. We aren’t having any problem with food spoilage and everything in the freezer is still frozen solid after a long brownout.

          Microwaves do, indeed, suck the power. My wife was outside one day as the microwave was turned out and she came inside and remarked out fast the meter was spinning. We use propane gas in the house, and the dirty kitchen is fueled by wood and charcoal. We are probably too dependent on the microwave, however, to conveniently heat up food.

          So motorcycle batteries are out? There are motor boat batteries available, and I don’t mind having an alternate energy source like the batteries instead of a generator. Truth be told, the asawa doesn’t want to purchase a generator. But I’m sure I can sell her on the battery idea. Too me, it seems like a viable option. We will NOT be using a water heater for showers. Haven’t had one for five years and don’t see the need for one now.

          Tacky, no, not at all. I appreciate the help and anyway we can save money is a huge plus for both my wife and I. Thanks again, Owen.

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