Whether you're growing lettuce or fish, one of the constant fears for any grower is that the power will go out, the pumps will stop, and the parts of your system that need regular flowing water and/or oxygen will suffer. In this post we look at five ways to avoid disaster in your hydroponics or aquaponics system when the power goes out. Some of them are more practical than others, but there is a viable solution for everybody. Click to read more below.
1. System Design
Starting with the most fragile system when it comes to power outages - NFT. Because there is only a thin trickle of water running over your plants roots, should your pump lose power, the roots will dry out fast and your plants will suffer. The only real way around this is to keep you pump on a backup generator. Next, Ebb and flow can be better, but it depends what cycle the outage catches you in. If the power causes you to miss a flood cycle, it can stress your plants. A better hydro system to avoid plant loss during a power outage is DWC. Because your plants' roots are already suspended in water, the only clock ticking is your level of dissolved oxygen as your aerators turned off. You can use a backup, battery air pump if this is is the case or even chemical oxygen additives such as H2O2. Finally, the best system will be one that retains some moisture, so something like a coir drip system or even a wicking bed.
When it comes to your fish, there is no great way (that we know of) to design out the impending doom of a power outage in aquaponics without backup generators, batteries, or taking it off grid. Fish and stagnant water do not mix. A couple of ideas that we found from our research to keep your fish alive while the power is out:
Depending on the size of your system, a portable generator can be an affordable perfect solution to keep your pumps flowing during a power outage. The one to the left goes for $200 on amazon.com and runs off of gasoline. If you have a larger system, you may need to scale up in terms of size of the generator, especially if you are growing under lights. The two downsides of these systems are that:
Standby generators are great because they are connected to the grid and can automatically detect when the grid is not providing enough power to meet the demands of your system. These generators hook up to your natural gas lines and are connected to your electrical grid. Ignoring cost, these generators are the perfect backup to protect your system without fear of failure due to a power outage as they will kick on automatically. But they are very expensive, with even the cheapest models costing over $2,000.
3. Warning Systems
If you aren't able to afford a standby generator, then a cellular and/or telephone warning system is the perfect solution to warning you so you can take action. The product to the left, SensaPhone, costs a few hundred bucks and connects to your phone line and will give you a call at a pre-determined number letting you know that the power is out. I've heard that it can be pretty shocking to get the robotic call waking you up in the middle of the night, so the company has released another version that allows you to record your own warning in your voice to be replayed to you when the power goes out.
4. Pumps with Battery Backup
For submersible pumps or other water pumps, we haven't yet found a good pump that has an automatic battery backup attached. For those who feel comfortable being their own electrician, there are certainly ways to create a custom battery backup for your pump using car batteries, etc. Do you know of better battery operated backup pumps? Let us know in comments!
5. Go Off the Grid
Circumvent the problem all together! Go off the grid, use solar, hydrothermal, water, wind, etc. to save on electricity and take power outages into your own hands! The major problem - most of these resources do not provide power full time. Especially if you are growing under lights, you will need a lot of panels to provide the electricity for your system. Excitingly, going off the grid is getting more affordable and doable with the fall in battery prices. Tesla just announced their new home battery system to store power during off-peak hours. Such a technology like this can allow you to store the extra power you generate from your panels during the day and use it at night or on cloudy days to keep your system running.