Letter Re: How Vulnerable are Alternative Energy Systems to EMP?

With all the talk recently on EMP issues, I wonder if a solar system or wind generator less vulnerable or just as vulnerable to EMP to the grid. What type of additional protection could/should be incorporated in to alternative energy designed systems? Keep up the terrific work on the blog. It’s the first thing I read every morning. – D.

JWR Replies:  All modern circuitry that employs microchips is at risk.  However, the greatest risk is to systems that are connected to grid power. This is because the power grid will work like a giant antenna to collect EMP. Assuming that you are out in the hinterboonies (well away from potential nuclear targets), then an independent, truly off grid, solar, wind, or microhydro power system is not likely to be affected by EMP. Here, I should mention that I recommend that you resist the urge to “sell back” your excess power to your local power utility, for three reasons. 1.)  If you don’t decisively “cut the cord”, then you are opening a window of invulnerability to EMP. (By the aforementioned grid connectivity.)  2.)  You are targeting your PV panels for confiscation by grabby bureaucrats in the event of some “crisis” or in a slow slide scenario.  3.)  You make yourself vulnerable to your human nature. If you ever have a problem with your PV, wind, or microhydro system, or when your battery bank starts to get old and sulfated, then you might someday be tempted to revert to using grid power “just for a little while”, and then the repairs to your system will never get done.(BTW, I’ve seen the latter happen, even with wealthy retreat owners.)

Zener diodes can be used to isolate components, but the only 100% foolproof protection is to keep key spares in a Faraday cage. The component at greatest risk in alternative power system is the modern microprocessor-based battery charge controller. They are fairly simple to bypass if yours ever gets fried by EMP, but since they typically cost less than $200 it is probably best to buy a “just in case” spare charge controller and tuck it away in an ammo can.


The Real Estate Bubble–Getting Out at The Top (SAs: Contrarian Investing, Real Estate, Relocation)

Our friends over at The Daily Reckoning report that The International Herald Tribune recently ran an article under the headline: “High Home Prices Drive California Exodus.”  In my opinion the Bubble is about ready to pop. I’m not the only one that holds this opinion. There are lots of others. I predict that the price declines will be greatest in the suburbs in coastal cities. Perhaps dramatic declines. But I also believe that good productive agricultural land will hold most of its value, even as urban and suburban real estate prices crater. To explain:  Farming in America has become so efficient that crop prices have been depressed for decades. This has kept the price of farm ground down–at least in terms of what it can actually produce. Yes, this land is much more expensive than it was in the 1970s, but in real terms, it is still “dirt cheap.”

The real losers in the post real estate bubble era will be the poor deluded souls who bought rental properties on speculation near the top of the market. The bubble is likely to burst long before rents ever ratchet up enough to put those investors into the black. They will be stuck with assets that will suffer down-ratcheting value, with no hope of selling them at a profit for perhaps decades, and taking in rents that don’t cover their financed debt plus the upkeep. As real estate prices go down, renters will ask for even lower rents. The owners of these rentals will be faced with either selling them at a deep loss, or continuing to rent them with a negative cash flow.