Energy Perspectives

A Different Perspective

Here’s a different sort energy perspective. A couple of Months ago, Tyler Z. asked Nova Scotia Power the following question:

If zombies took over earth how long could you guys keep supplying power to survivors? Would wind mills just keep turning?

Here is NS Power’s excellent response:

Hi Tyler. Good question.

We feel we're ready if (or when?) the zombie outbreak occurs.

The electrical system is a complicated network of tens of thousands of kilometres of poles, wires, and equipment connecting power plants, wind farms and other generation with homes and businesses across the province. It requires a lot of manual control to work, but we’d be able to provide some level of service as long as we kept receiving supplies and our employees were safe from the zombie hordes. Of course, there are no guarantees and if society were to completely crumble except for a few bands of survivors we’d do whatever we could for as long as we could.

Making power

You're right that wind turbines would continue to operate on their own, though over time they would break down without maintenance. But turbines need other equipment to get their electricity on the grid, and some of that requires manual intervention to work, so there could be problems. Another thing - wind doesn’t supply consistent amounts of electricity because it isn’t always blowing. Sometimes it can supply a lot of our power, but other times it can supply very little or none at all. Today, we’re able to back-up wind with coal and natural gas. We’ll also be able to utilize our biomass plant when it opens next year, but our ability to keep making power using these sources depends a lot on consistent supplies of fuel. We typically keep at least a few weeks supply of coal on site at our plants, but natural gas is shipped via a pipeline and not stored. Biomass is just waste wood, so if we had enough people to gather fuel from the surrounding area it’s possible we could keep that plant running. But for coal and gas, a complete breakdown of society as we know it would raise a lot of questions about ensuring an adequate supply of fuels. It seems an overlooked benefit of our transition away from fossil fuels to renewable energy sources is a greater chance of still being able to make and deliver electricity during and after a zombie apocalypse.

Of course, there'd be more than just the generating units to worry about if this happens. One of the key parts of our operations is the control centre that ensures the right amount of electricity is being generated and delivered to Nova Scotians at the right times. Staff in this facility can also remotely control some of our hydro plants, meaning they could ensure some electricity is still being produced as those sites run only on river water. The control centre is also a secure facility, with highly-trained, hard-working operators in a building behind high fences. Assuming we could hold this facility and a few of our plants against the shambling legions of animated corpses, there’s a good chance we could make a stand and keep supplying some amount of electricity for some time.

Delivering power

You may have already figured out that the transmission and distribution grid could also be at risk. This equipment would break down over time without proper maintenance, but should last for a while - at least long enough for survivors to band together to make a stand for humanity. And of course with limited staff and the constant fear of being eaten, we probably wouldn’t be able to respond to and fix power outages as quickly as we can today. While we couldn’t monitor many spans of line for zombies, their safety-focused design to keep high voltage wires high above the reach of human hands would conveniently double as protection from zombies who don’t have to worry about the health effects of 80,000 volts.

Staying safe and making a stand

While we’re working hard to reduce our reliance on coal these days, we still operate our plants and they’d be potential safe-havens for survivors of the outbreak. If TV and movies have told us anything, it’s that strong fences stop zombies, and we’ve got lots of them. Our employees are a pretty dedicated bunch, so we're hoping a good number of them would bring their families in and agree to stay on site to keep things running. If you could make it to one of the plants without becoming infected (safety at our facilities is always our top priority) you and your family would be welcome to enter and join our little piece of the resistance. Over time we’d definitely need some engineering expertise, so if along the way you happen to find any engineers that haven’t been bitten, we’d definitely let them in too. Once we fortified the properties we could start to figure out the best ways to keep supplying power and help Nova Scotians defend themselves against the  brain-eating undead.

Something many people may not realize is that we produce fresh water at many our power plants. Our big coal and gas generators need lots of pure water to run properly, so on-site water laboratories like the one pictured below at Tufts Cove in Dartmouth help us remove all contaminants from sea water and other sources before it goes into the boilers to make steam to drive turbines. We think we could use some of this equipment to ensure survivors have clean drinking water.

But while our power plants are fairly secure, our most zombie-hardened facility is definitely Wreck Cove, a hydro plant in the Cape Breton Highlands. A good distance from any population centre, the facility is located 275 metres underground down a 620 metre access tunnel. As you can see from the photo, it’s relatively isolated and would be easy to fortify. Several of the staff members working there today are already experienced outdoorsmen who could venture out for supplies and help keep people safe there.

Thanks again for your interest and concern, Tyler. We hope we've provided some reassurance, and we're hopeful we can count on you to help us out.

Republished with the permission of author Aaron Veinotte, Nova Scotia Power.   

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