Lessons learned from a power-cut


The first indication I had that anything was wrong at home was my solar panels's cloud service casually emailing me to say they hadn't generated any electricity that day. We were on holiday - literally on the other side of the planet - and there were reports of snow at home, so I didn't think anything of it.

But the same thing happened the next day. And our alarm system app started complaining that it couldn't reach our home network. Nor could our security camera app, heating app, and lighting app.

Bother.

At first, I thought the Internet had temporarily gone out. Our ISP's fault page showed no disruption in the area and no problems with the line.

Arse.

I checked with the local power company - and there were no cuts reported in the area. So I checked our smart meter data. Our energy company gets reports every 30 minutes from the meter. That let me see that, at some point after 0930 one morning, the power had gone out and hadn't come back.

FUCK!

The smart meter was sending back 0kWh every 30 minutes. So I was reasonably sure that the house hadn't burned down. And, after a moment of panic, felt sure that if there had been a gas explosion, ram-raid, or meteor strike, someone would have found a way to contact me. So it was probably a fuse tripping which had knocked everything out.

Wait! What about our UPS?!!?

Last year we got a small Uninterruptible Power Supply. In an act of hubris sure to tempt the wrath of Jupiter, I said "I never get power cuts". Lord, what fools these mortals be! Checking on a few of my cron jobs from a home server, the UPS kept the WiFi, Internet, and a few other bits and bobs running for a couple of hours before starving to death.

We decided not to cut our holiday short by a few days or ask a friend to pop in and, instead, waited until we got home to flip the circuit breaker. The only calamity to have befallen us was a bunch of spoiled freezer-food.

But it got me thinking about all the things which went wrong, and how I could have prevented them.

No Alerting

I have a UPS. It has a USB port. It is connected to my server. My server can communicate with my UPS. Do I make use of any of this? NO!

Conceptually, it is pretty simple.

apcaccess -p BCHARGE -u will retrieve the battery level. Run that every few minutes in cron. If it dips below 100% then send an email with the full apcaccess status output.

No alternative ISP

When I thought it was an Internet outage, I cursed myself for not adding a 4G USB dongle to my router. That would have allowed me to see whether it was the ISP or the electricity which was the issue. It would also have helped with:

No Cloud Storage for Security

As a paranoid little geek, I made sure that all my security cameras only store data on the LAN. But that means that if they had caught images of a burglar breaking in and cutting the power, I'd have no means of retrieving them.

Perhaps I need to rethink my strategy? Do I trust myself - or someone else - to configure AWS properly so that I can access images but ne'er-do-wells cannot?

WiFi Circuit Breakers?!?!!?

My house is stuffed full of dangerous IoT equipment. Why not add WiFi to the fuse board? Yup, someone makes a Wi-Fi MCB which features "Intelligent Reclosing".

If I'd had that installed, I could have been alerted that something was a problem and then tried to flip the switch.

I've no idea if they're legal to install in the UK - but Amazon sells them for about £40.

What else?

I can't stop lighting from striking our house. I have off-site backups of all our important digital stuff. But what more can I do?

I suppose I could have hired a house-sitter - but that seems more geared to watering plants than dealing with complex maintenance.

The electrics were checked a couple of years ago - I could schedule a more regular assessment.

We have solar panels and a battery - but they don't work in a powercut to prevent domestic brownouts and the risk of feeding back into the grid. It might be time to look at re-doing all our electrics so that critical components can run directly from solar?

Perhaps I should abandon all ideas of leaving the house ever again - but that doesn't seem healthy.

Electricity is such a fundamental part of life but, in the end, our house survived without it. The UK's weather is rarely extreme, and our property is well insulated. Maybe I should just learn to let go and accept living by candlelight?

WWYD?


10 thoughts on “Lessons learned from a power-cut

  1. says:

    If you rent a house out I think you legally have to get various things checked annually by a certified professional... gas, electrics, etc. Maybe that list is a reasonable starting point for a basic minimum annual 'house MoT'?

  2. says:

    @Edent I switched my secondary Wifi off before going away for a few days recently, and didn’t realise until I tried to access the security cameras 😭It feels like connected technology has given us new stuff to care and worry about that our parents and grandparents couldn’t even fathom.

  3. @gadgetoid @Edent I think this is a case where we need community backup.People close enough to us - physically and socially that we trust them with a key to the house and can ask them to pop in and check on something when we are away.I wouldn't want to reset a fuse without a literal smell test.

  4. @neil @Edent at the very least, they won't be correctly type rated for your consumer unit. They are allegedly CE marked... These things are safety critical, I wouldn't trust an import. Nor would I work in the consumer unit. Nor would I expect any spark to put their name on a cert for the work.

  5. @Edent I wonder if you had a very brief interruption to your power supply? Lots of RCDs need constant power to avoid tripping.Annoying that it happened while you were away though.

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