“Widespread Electricity Failure” – The National Risk Register of Civil Emergencies.

Loss of electrical power seemed to be the most basic issue on the new National Risk Register, once I stopped to think about it: every single one of us uses electrical power, for dozens and dozens of things, and while a lot of them are pretty unimportant in the long term (an electric carving knife to cut my foam insulation, or the batteries for my doorbell) some of them are crucial – heat, light, fuel to cook and to use the fridge freezer, all sorts of things. In the community at large – electricity powers the pumps at petrol stations, it powers huge amounts of life saving equipment in hospitals, pumps for the sewage and drainage systems,it powers the lighting and the air conditioning in shopping centres and tunnels – imagine being in the Bluewater Shopping Centre, or on Eurostar, if the electricity supply was hacked!

There’s an interesting article on ZeroHedge about a collapse in the electricity supply as it would affect the USA. Interesting yes, but I’m really doubtful about a high-atmosphere terrorist attack using an EMP, though I agree that sooner or later, a CME (a Coronal Mass Ejection) from the sun will hit us square on and be strong enough to so some damage, solar activity being what it is.

And probably some people remember the Channel 4 drama-documentary Blackout which had it’s faults of course, but was a good first try at representing what a ten-day break in supply might be like.

So I thought I’d take stock, bit by bit, of what I have, what I still need, and I hope that other people will find that useful.

These are my efforts at alternate methods of lighting first of all, in this particular post.  This is a fair proportion of my own possibilities:


I have a lot of candles. A lot. Lots of people have bought me candleholders and New Agey type candles as gifts – I’ve never really lit them very much, so I still have nearly all of them. The only thing I use them for regularly is as a sort of prayer candle, when someone is ill, or someone has died. And the first year I was in this house, there were 3 or 4 power cuts, so my stock of candles became very important to me. I bought lots myself, much more utilitarian and longlasting, including tealights. I also put by some shallow tin cans, once I’d used the contents, so that I had extra candle holders.  I have a candle snuffer too.

Even with a candle holder, candles aren’t safe: so I have lots of fireproof surfaces they can sit on: ceramic plates and tiles, old roof tiles of lovely old slate, a couple of metal containers that I’ve re-purposed (one was meant for flowerpots! I wouldn’t want to grow anything in that, because of possible taint, but it suits candles very well). Underneath the candle, candle holder and it’s fireproof container are blocks of wood, or a few slices of cork tree I picked up in a market in Barcelona – a wooden surface underneath a candle might eventually get scorched, and there’s no reason to let that happen if it doesn’t have to, so there are blocks of wood there. If things ever got really bad, that wood could easily go on the fire to keep warm!

Candle, candlestick, fireproof slate surface, anti-scorch insulation.  And a statue of an Egyptian cat.

Tips to increase the burn time of your candles

If the candles come with instructions, read them!

Burn each candle for long enough each time to melt the wax all across the top of the candle – when it burns to the edges, it burns all the wax at each level, so it will burn longer in total. The first burn is especially important for reaching the edge. This avoids a “tunnel”, it’s much more efficient. If you do end up creating a tunnel, you can either bend the wax edges around the wick, which almost creates a lantern effect. This will mean that that wax melts as well, and lengthen the burn time accordingly. Or you could just cut away the unburnt wax, carefully, and recycle it into new candles that you make yourself.

Burn each candle for a maximum of 4 hours at a time. If you need longer burns, swap the candles over, to avoid smokiness.

Trim the wick regularly – after it’s maybe half an inch long at most, otherwise it will smoke, shed debris, flicker badly and burn too quickly.

Don’t burn a candle near a draft – or, if you have to do that for some reason, put it in a little lantern, the sort you can get from any pound shop. At minimum, turn the candle regularly, to help it burn evenly.

Circular candles burn more efficiently, and waste less wax. You can still recycle the wax, of course, but why recycle more than you have to?

Keep your candles as cool as possible, as the wax will then burn a little more slowly. I’m not quite sure how true this one is, but it couldn’t harm to keep your candles cool.

Using a purpose made candle snuffer will prevent liquid wax, soot and debris from contaminating the candle.

The longer a candle is, the more important that its laid flat – this will prevent warping, which in turn helps the candle to burn evenly and less wastefully.

The rest – plus my still-to-do list

I have a lot of matches. They’re my primary way to light the candles: I have other ways, but I’ll actually cover “lighting up”, so to speak, in a different post, there’s dozens of ways of doing it.

I have a lot of spare glass jars too – nowadays (and in the future) when I burn a candle, I collect the wax for re-use, I don’t just let it solidify and throw it away.

That’s one use for spare glass jars – another, for as big a jar as possible (or even for one of those big plastic milk containers) is to turn a torch into one that’s full of water. Because of the wonders of refraction, this spreads out the light, and a focussed beam becomes an ambient light thats generally useful over a much wider area.  There are many other uses for them, which I’ll also talk about another time.  I love this whole idea of using refraction or diffusion to aid our prepping efforts, but when I experimented with this as I was finishing off this post, it didn’t work too well.  Check out the photos immediately below:

Torch shone into a 4 pint milk container.
Torch shone directly ahead onto the opposite wall.

I have a couple of lanterns for candles, too – one’s a pretty little gift, the other is a gorgeous, rusty old thing with a huge hook for it to hang from. I only acquired this recently, from a neighbour’s skip – they were pretty surprised when I rang their doorbell to ask permission to take it, but very happy to oblige.

Rusty old lantern, a work in progress

What do I still need?

I still need wicks, if I’m going to make my own candles: pre-cut, pre-waxed wicks are available on ebay, and lengths of uncut wick are available too. I’d like to learn how to improvise wicks from old clothing made of natural materials.

I need improvised candle moulds too – I could use used tealight holders, and I have flat sheets of silicon as bakeware, so I could use those, but I need to practise.

I have torches, of course – all LED. The bulbs are practically immortal, and the batteries are rechargeable. But my big, hefty torch has disappeared, temporarily I hope – I need to buy another one pronto, illustrating the old prepper saying: two is one and one is none. My “one” has turned into “none”, right enough.

One of the nooks in my kitchen has those sticky LED lights, that you can push on/off as necessary, and there’s a couple of other stickies ready to be stuck anywhere that’s needed, As long as I have enough batteries to power them.  The spoon at the bottom of the general picture, at the top of this post, is a thin wooden disposable – I’ve found it to be really useful in getting batteries out of their niches without harming them.

The other LED lights I have are the classic solar garden lights, the ones on little sticks that light up your garden path – they won’t be particularly strong or long lasting, but they’re a great idea to be able to get around in the evening for a little while.

I need to buy some Eneloops batteries – they’re most popular among people who are In The Know, and their wiki entry explains why.  Basically, they discharge so little during storage, and that isn’t just consumerist hype. That’s very handy to have during even a short term grid down incident.

I do have the Camelion Solar Charger.  This has very mixed reviews on Amazon. I can’t review it myself yet, as I stuck it in a drawer and ignored it, basically – my bad. I’ll do better now, with the blog to report to!

I’d like to learn to make oil lamps – it looks pretty simple on various youtube videos, I just haven’t done it yet. They need wicks too, but I doubt they need to be waxed. Something else to research.

One way of maximising the light we get from any one source is reflectivity: putting a mirror, or even some aluminium foil, behind a candle, at a safe distance of course. I have both of those, so I’m good there.  And I think its more realistic (or more easily achievable) than the shining-into-a-big-water-container as experimented above.

There are some big holes in my preps on this, I confess. And I’m about to throw money at it, so I’ll work it through on here, on the blog. It should be a really interesting experiment! I know some readers of this blog are much further ahead with this, and much more knowledgeable – I’ve already had help – so I’ve got to make good. Post below about your own electrical backup, by all means.

For maximum backup, and because I adore all things solar, I need to be able to charge my battery chargers with solar power I’m struggling with this. I have a couple of low wattage solar panels, but I haven’t yet got round to connecting them to anything that would make their output useable to me. I’d also like an intelligent battery charger, one that tells me how much charge is there, though I think it’s more important to set up my solar panels into something useful.

So that’s it!  I wonder if you’ve done things differently, got different emphases?  Care to share?

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