Wednesday, December 29, 2010

220V? Not anymore, just 170V

Well, power is back up but, maybe as a metaphor of the entire country, you have power but it doesn't work well.
Instead of 220V, we have 170V and that means the energy efficient lamps I have work, so does the TV and computer, but the microwave doesn't work, nor does the much needed air conditioners. The fridge is barely working and not cooling well. I'm going out to buy an automatic voltage elevator, this will elevate the output back to 220V, even if I only get 170V. Playing it safe I'll get the one that elevates as little as 150V. Summer has just started and January promises to be hell here in Buenos Aires.

Why do we have these problems? The electric infrastructure is old, in poor kept condition, and proper maintenance was never done, let alone after 2001 when they just duct-taped problems. As more people move from the provinces to Buenos Aires or come from north of the border (Bolivia, Peru and Paraguay are our version of Mexico) the problem gets worse. Where you used to have a house you now have a 15 story building. Where you used to have land filled with trash or a public park, you have squatters building shanty towns that go up 3 or even 5 floors, hooked illegally to the electric power and not paying a cent of course.

Hope I can find a solution to this problem soon. Take care folks.



Anonymous said...

That city is set to explode if services are this bad this early.

Anonymous said...

So far, we haven't had this issue in USA (120V). The electric infrastructure is maintained mainly by private corporations. I DO know that in rural areas the lines they use are in some cases the same lines put in during the 1930s by the FDR administration, so they tend to have more problems.

Around here, not even the bankruptcy of one of the major electric utilities was enough to affect maintenance-the corporation was allowed to regroup and emerge. Rural areas again tend to have the local govts maintaining the lines, called an "electric cooperative" and a leftover from FDR's socialist dreams.

A couple years ago a windstorm took out ONE of the two electric lines behind my house. My computer wouldn't boot up, and the fridge couldn't operate, cycling off and on repeatedly until I unplugged it for fear it would burn up. That storm was so huge, it took five days to get everybody back on-I was without power for three.

The electric company was so overwhelmed they left the line on the ground and energized for 30 hours, and the neighbor ended up with naturally barbecued chicken! (His chickens sat on the line. Ouch!) It sounds like BsAs is bursting at the seams with people trying to flee much worse conditions in outlying areas. I'd like to know how they can build 15 story buildings out of that brick they use, brick and cheap concrete.

Kurt said...

Post some info on the voltage adjusters you mentioned please? Be interesting to see what they are, perhaps track down one designed for, or make one for, US voltages, just in case something like it is needed here. Might be others in other countries that would be interested as well? So how about pics, URLs, etc?

Anonymous said...

Sounds like you need to start looking for a generator, too.

That much of a voltage drop will really kill the life of any motors/compressors - (i.e. your refrigerator!)

More importantly, you might lose substation transformers as they are drawing more current at a lower voltage - and they may not be easy to replace.

Good luck

Anonymous said...

Items with motors like your refrigerator will be damaged by running at low voltage.

If this is a serious long term condition you need to regulate the voltage to appliances that use motors like your fridge, air conditioner, water pump, microwave (carousel at least).
There are ways to monitor and cut off the electric if the voltage drops (which could be bad... as in food spoiling) and there are ways to smooth out that voltage through something like an Uninterpretable Power Supply (basically a charger+battery+inverter) which won't be cheap; if you need to size it to run several appliances at once. At least get one for the refrigerator and you can move that to the appliance you NEED to run at any given time.

Anonymous said...

Unreal, man.

Shades of the US future?

So many you kids today can't find decent employment so it's hard for them to pay off tens (or hundreds) of thousands of dollars in education by working at Starbucks. Many are just going to work for the US Gov't, the spender of last resort.

The US' energy infrastructure isn't that modern either. Pity... the trillions spent in Afghanistan and Iraq would have brought the US Energy Structure up-to-date (along with highways, light rail, heavy rail, canals...)

Anonymous said...

Try to find a SOLA brand regulator. These will typically regulate anything from 80v to 260v volts to either 110v or 220v.

Krzysztof said...

I sugest you to buy good DC/AC converter and some 12V car batteries.
Then construct a Bedini generator.
And power the whole system independently of any grid and for free, like here ->

Anonymous said...

The solution, of course, is to get a generator. Honda seems to be the best, but I heard the conversion to (cheap) liquid natural gas is not recommenced by honda.

Anonymous said...

Step up transformers need to be massive to convert to 220V to power a microwave. Step down (to 110V or 12V) is much simpler to do.

You would need a new Microwave though, unless its designed to be used at 110/240V. A lot of equipment might be designed to work at other voltages - much electronic equipment works at 12V,5V levels. You can get 12V fridges (which are much more expensive, but very efficient. In the Australian outback they use a 80W solar panel to freeze during the day and the cool capacity is retained overnight) as well as gas powered fridges.

Don Williams said...

1) You might look at backup plans for keeping your blog up if power in your home stays out. E.g., mobile laptop computer and access to a reliable Internet access port of some kind that you can walk to. (Do they have Internet cafes in Buenos Aires?? For some reason, they have been rare in the USA although deployment of wireless WiFi in public spaces is helping that.) Do Libraries provide Internet access?

2) Solar cell panels can generate enough electricity to charge batteries for cell phones, LED flashlights, etc. I'm not sure if they are practical for today's energy hungry laptops -- may need a whole day's charge to get half an hour of computer time. Plus you would need rooftop access for anything bigger than 1 meter by 1/2 meter.

Solar panels are somewhat expensive however--at least in the USA -- although China is making a business out of selling some to isolated African villages.

3) Are there any public places with electrical outlets where you can plug a laptop battery in to be recharged?

That sounds like a nice small business if power outages are a problem: Customers could drop off their computer batteries in the morning like laundry, get a ticket, and pick their batteries up in the evening when they leave work to return home. Would need capital to buy (rent?) the battery chargers and access to reliable electricity.

4) I would think tourists and middle class government or financial workers in Buenos Aires' central districts who commute to work there would be best customers. I.e, people who lived in districts subject to rolling power outages but who commute to the central district during the day where more reliable power exists. (I assume the government ensures that there are no power outages in the wealthy districts.)

5) A nice side business might be selling replacement batteries.

6) One problem I see is that there are no barriers to entry --i.e, no easy way to prevent competitors from setting up a similar business
and driving your profits down. Plus you have boom and bust cycle -- i.e, big customer demand in summer with power outages but then drop off when weather turns more moderate. That intermittent nature might deter growth of competitors. Plus you could focus on customer loyalty --which means very high standards for service-- batteries always charged, never lost,etc.

Don Williams said...

PS You might get some gel ice packs for your refrigerator, Ferfal. (The kind used for ice chests in outdoors camping.) If you put two or three into your freezer to freeze solid when power is on, you could move them into your higher temperature refrigerator section (50 deg Fahrenehit/10 deg Celsius?) to keep food cool when power is off.

If gel packs are sold out, then ordinary ice cubes in plastic bags would work also.

Big Electric fans are a big help if the Air Conditioning is out and they don't take much electricity.

Don Williams said...

This tech article is about two years old but talks about solar panel chargers for laptop computers. Note that the Brunton roll is pretty portable and puts out the needed watts for full operation versus trickle charge.

(PS "treehugger" is the mildly insulting term used in US states like Texas for environmental protection advocates. :)

Kragen Javier Sitaker said...

The duct tape probably would be sufficient to hold the power grid together, except that over the last several years, lots and lots of people have bought air conditioners that didn't use to have them, because the economy has largely recovered since the 2002 crisis. Residential electric rates here in Argentina are heavily subsidized, so it doesn't make sense to buy an efficient air conditioner. A typical coefficient of performance is 2, not 3 to 6 as in some places.

Something not mentioned is that the water supply here is mostly dependent on electricity. The water main pressure is quite low, so if you live above the second floor (as most people do inside the city) you depend on an electric pump to fill the water tank on your roof. As a result, when the electricity goes out, the water goes out too within a day.

My solution for movable freezer ice is plastic drink bottles.

With regard to villa construction techniques, the buildings I've seen are thin reinforced concrete frames and floors with the walls filled with hollow ceramic brick. They never come close to 15 stories.

It's true that power outages are much less common in wealthier districts --- even areas like Once de Septiembre, where I'd been living for the past couple of years. They still do happen about once a month during the summer, though.

Don: There are internet cafes on every block in Buenos Aires, except in the richer parts of the city. I saw one tucked into a parking garage yesterday. They typically cost between AR$0.75 and AR$3 per hour. Free Wi-Fi is also very common; most cafes have it, as does the subway system. I often see people using the subway Wi-Fi on their cellphones, but I almost never see people pulling out a laptop in the subway.

Accessible outlets are very common --- universal in restaurants and cafes, common in the subway. I've never seen them in trains or train stations or buses, though.

FerFAL said...

Kragen Javier Sitaker said...
"Residential electric rates here in Argentina are heavily subsidized, so it doesn't make sense to buy an efficient air conditioner. A typical coefficient of performance is 2, not 3 to 6 as in some places."
What the hell are you talking about??
The price of electric power has gone UP 400% to 500%, some cases %800 the last couple years!
Power is more expensive in Argentina than in most US. Subsidizing something and then raising the price 5 times is a joke! In fact, the common problem here is that people can buy the AC, what they can't afford is the power bill.

Power blackout once a month during summer? Try two or three times a week.

Get your facts right next time and dont make up stuff.


Kragen Javier Sitaker said...

Hi Fer. I tried to post a comment just now, and the result page said both that my HTML no era aceptable and that se habĂ­a guardado mi comentario. If you didn't get it, let me know and I'll repost it.