16
$\begingroup$

In a zombie apocalypse scenario, power is important. It charges your lights, powers your communication, along with the possibility of defensive use as in tasers and electric fences. Electricity can also be used to fend off boredom, but there are not many ways of inconspicuously getting power, so what methods of electricity generation would be the most efficient in a world dominated by zombies?

The only rule is the the solution must also not attract infected or bandits.

edit

The zombies that exist in my world are, for all extents and purposes, 28 days later zombies, they do need to eat, they can be killed like a person but are immune to disease.

$\endgroup$
  • 2
    $\begingroup$ Could you clarify what you mean by "efficient"? $\endgroup$ – Schwern May 24 '16 at 19:59
  • 2
    $\begingroup$ Efficient in what sense? Human time, space used, oil used, noise generated? $\endgroup$ – sdrawkcabdear May 24 '16 at 19:59
  • 1
    $\begingroup$ You don't specify whether you are actively hiding from the zombies or whether you're are the zombie overlord. I initially read this as "I have zombies at my disposal, how can I generate power from them?", but others seem to have interpreted it differently. $\endgroup$ – Kys May 24 '16 at 20:06
  • 1
    $\begingroup$ Aify's answer beat my comment by about 10 seconds. $\endgroup$ – Henry Taylor May 24 '16 at 20:23
  • 2
    $\begingroup$ With perpetual motion zombies, you could literally harness a zombie and generate infinite energy (how's that for efficiency?). Just drop a zombie in a harness and a giant hamster wheel. $\endgroup$ – Aron May 26 '16 at 4:11

11 Answers 11

23
$\begingroup$

Since I don't think we care about carbon pollution in a zombie apocalypse, I'm going to assume "efficient" means...

  • Won't attract zombies or looters.
  • Maintaining and fueling doesn't put you in danger.
  • Doesn't require a lot of specialized skills.
  • Doesn't require a lot of hard to find parts.
  • Fuel is readily available and won't run out in your lifetime.

You're not getting any deliveries any time soon, so anything that requires a non-local fuel is out. If you have any petroleum fuel you probably want to save it to run a diesel vehicle (gasoline goes bad after a few months). That leaves wind, hydro, solar, and biomass... and maybe propane.

Biomass

That means burning stuff, probably to make steam to turn a turbine. While this is relatively easy, it also produces a lot of smoke, and requires a lot of foraging. The smoke can attract looters and the foraging requires leaving the safety of your fort. And eventually you'll run out of stuff to burn. Also in colder climates your electricity generation and heating will draw from the same fuel supply.

And hey, it's something to do with all those zombies you've been killing at your fence line. You'll probably burn the corpses to keep down the smell, why not get some power out of it? A human body is hard to get started, but once the fat melts it can go for hours. How well they'll burn depends on how much fat the zombies have left on them. Eventually you'll thin out the local zombie population so they're not a viable fuel source. How fast this happens depends on what the population density was when you set up your fort, and how many your fort attracts. If your plan is to attract zombies as a fuel source... I'll move on to the next fort.

If nothing else is available, biomass will work, but upgrade quick.

Hydro

If you have a river nearby, great! Even better if there's a convenient waterfall. Even better if there's already a convenient hydroelectric dam! Not too big though, that would probably be too complicated to run and maintain. It's quiet. It's unending. Incorporate it into your fort and you have power and fresh water!

The technology isn't complicated, better technology will mean more efficient power extraction. Even if you can't manage an electric generator, the raw mechanical power can help with all sorts of tasks. You don't even need a waterfall, you can put a turbine in a river and draw power from the current.

Quiet. Hidden. Unending. It's perfect... but eventually the bearings will give out. Maybe 10-20 years. Hopefully you can find some spares in that time, or re-establish civilization.

Solar

Unlike hydro, which requires a convenient river, solar will always work. In the zombie apocalypse you'll probably be relying on some sort of solar power if nothing else to keep your GPS and radio batteries charged. If you can find some industrial solar panels and batteries, more and more prevalent, you have a nearly maintenance free source of DC power. Power generation will depend on the region and season, but why not?

Ready to go solar setups can be looted from most camping stores. Everything from a small panel to keep your phone charged to a 1200Wh 12V AC power supply able to run a fridge.

Quiet. Unending. Ubiquitous. Nearly maintenance free. The only downside is a rooftop full of clean solar panels might tip off looters.

Wind

Basically the same as solar, and a great compliment. When it's not sunny it's often windy. Home installation is a bit less prevalent so scrounging up wind turbines won't be quite as easy.

The downside is the turbine, even a small one, will be noticeable to looters. And they do make some noise that might attract zombies and looters from maybe 100 meters away. Also, like hydro, the bearings will eventually fail.

Propane (honorable mention)

Wait wait wait, I thought we ruled out non-renewables? Well... propane is a special case. There's a lot of it around, and there's a lot of home appliances which will run on propane including the most important, most overlooked of all... a refrigerator! And they're quiet.

Solar and wind are unreliable, and refrigeration uses a lot of power. If your batteries run out on a windless summer night and all your food goes bad, that sucks. Having a propane powered refrigerator can save you from starvation.

Look for them in camping stores and in RVs.


So there you have it. Your best bet is hydro, if available. And you should supplement it with solar and wind. Keep biomass and propane available as a last resort.

Hoard good bearings! Efficient power generation requires something to rotate very fast. That means you need good bearings. Bearings wear out, how fast depends on how well maintained they are and how balanced the load on them is. Cheap, poorly balanced bearings will wear out in a few years. Good, well balanced, well maintained bearings might last a few decades. Good bearings require sophisticated metallurgy, you're not likely to be able to make them yourself.

They'll corrode if left on a shelf, so find them early and store them in light oil to prevent corrosion.

$\endgroup$
  • $\begingroup$ Pardon my ignorance of mechanics, but what are bearings? Are they basically the axel? $\endgroup$ – TrEs-2b May 24 '16 at 20:20
  • $\begingroup$ @TrEs-2b A mechanical bearing reduces friction in a rotating part so they don't rub against each other and wear out. Something that has to spin rapidly, like a fan or a turbine, needs bearings. Eventually they wear out. Making good bearings requires a high level of metallurgy, so you're not likely to be able to make them, they'd have to be scrounged. Fortunately most anything mechanical has bearings. Unfortunately they'll corrode. It's probably wise to horde a bunch early and store them in light oil. $\endgroup$ – Schwern May 24 '16 at 20:23
  • $\begingroup$ For the biomass, you have zombies, right? $\endgroup$ – Simply Beautiful Art May 24 '16 at 21:02
  • 2
    $\begingroup$ @SimpleArt I mentioned that. A human body is hard to get started, but once the fat melts it can go for hours. How well they'll burn depends on how much fat they have left on them. And, eventually, you'll thin out the local zombie population so they're not viable as a fuel source. How fast this happens depends on what the population density was where you set up. $\endgroup$ – Schwern May 24 '16 at 21:06
  • 2
    $\begingroup$ @Schwern You don't know the kids these days. If they start burning grass, they'll be burning animal bi-products the next day, and before you know it, bam, human flesh. Talk to your kids about biomass, before someone - or something - else does. $\endgroup$ – wedstrom May 25 '16 at 15:54
15
$\begingroup$

How about zombie powered energy production?

Assuming that zombies don't attract other zombies, and bandits stay away from zombies, simply chain up the zombie to a treadmill and dangle brains (or meat or a corpse or whatever your zombies eat in your story) in front of them. Free infinite energy that's quiet to produce, requiring essentially no maintenance, and easy to duplicate since your world is full of zombies. The only limiting factor for how many power generators you can build is the amount of zombies you can capture.

$\endgroup$
  • 11
    $\begingroup$ That'll work if these are George Romero / Night Of The Living Dead style magic zombies, though you won't get much power out of a shambling zombie. If they're 28 Days Later "realistic" zombies who are normal humans with a disease, they'll quickly exhaust themselves and starve. Speaking of zombie movies, didnt 28 Days Later and Day Of The Dead teach us that keeping zombies inside the fort is a terrible idea? $\endgroup$ – Schwern May 24 '16 at 20:31
  • 2
    $\begingroup$ @TrEs-2b ...and violating conservation of energy. $\endgroup$ – Schwern May 24 '16 at 20:33
  • 5
    $\begingroup$ @Schwern I don't know too much about different types of zombies, but in my head zombies are already dead, and as such can't starve to death due to exhaustion - zombies already constantly violate the law of conservation of energy, since their organs no longer function (they're dead already), and as such would be unable to obtain energy from eating anything. $\endgroup$ – Aify May 24 '16 at 20:43
  • 5
    $\begingroup$ If the zombies violate conservation of energy, by not requiring ample food to power the treadmill, then you might as well try constructing any number of non-zombie perpetual motion machines. Or if the effect is specific to zombies, figure out what about them exactly creates free energy and isolate that. If the zombies follow laws of physics, this method would be very inefficient, like human power or animal power. $\endgroup$ – Superbest May 24 '16 at 22:40
  • 1
    $\begingroup$ Forget treadmills - build a steam engine and make a pit trap that attracts zombies and drops them into the boiler for fuel! Granted, this will require the zombies to be rather stupid, and it will stop working once you run out of zombies, but on the plus side... then you won't have to worry about zombies anymore. $\endgroup$ – IndigoFenix May 25 '16 at 7:25
15
$\begingroup$

For maximum sneakiness, use a RTG

enter image description here Steal one from these guys when they're looking the other way.

While they may be hard to come by, the generator best suited for providing electricity to a small band of humans who are trying to evade detection is a radioisotope thermoelectric generator, or RTG. RTGs are silent, have zero emissions for bandits to see, and require no infrastructure. They'll provide a steady stream of electricity for decades, and can be moved from site to site as required by your survivors.

There are a few downsides, however. RTGs don't provide a huge amount of power, but until you start to reach small-town numbers of humans, in which case human activity will likely be more detectable than power generation, they should be sufficient for your needs. They also have a radioactive core, so if something breaks the casing open, you might irradiate your survivors. Of course, if your enemies break the casing of your generator open, you've likely been found and have bigger problems than your generator breaking. The biggest downside of an RTG, of course, is that they're very uncommon and probably impossible to build without specialized equipment. However, if your survivors manage to find an intact, functional RTG with relatively fresh fuel in it, it's probably the best type of generator they can get their hands on.

$\endgroup$
  • 6
    $\begingroup$ For completeness, I should add that I was absolutely planning on saying "zombie powered giant hamster wheels", but that was already taken. $\endgroup$ – ckersch May 24 '16 at 21:24
  • 4
    $\begingroup$ If you can find an RTG that's already fueled and running, awesome! But it's not going to power a small town. RTGs are made for long term, zero maintenance power, not high power. Your typical RTG puts out a few hundred watts. That's enough to run a few dozen efficient light bulbs, or a few laptops, or the most important, most overlooked post-apocalyptic item of all... a refrigerator! Having a reliable power source for refrigerating food is worth it. The downside of an RTG is that's all the power you get, you can't expand your power production. $\endgroup$ – Schwern May 24 '16 at 21:27
6
$\begingroup$

Its not just about production - its about storage. Assuming you had time to prepare I'd suggest a combination of vertical wind turbines, possibly optimised for different speeds, used to pump water up to a water tower or used to compress air. Compressed air is more interesting

Many kinetic appliances can be converted to run on air (even blenders), and you could even get some form of cooling out of it. You could also produce some electricity, either from the compressed air, or directly off the wind turbine farm.

You could even use the compressed air for air powered weaponry for local defense. While unlikely to be as powerful as a modern firearm, you'd have silent weapons with ready ammunition which in theory could be reused if it wasn't too damaged.

There's even air powered cars.

Most of this technology is relatively quiet, well understood - the amish apparently use it, and a good chunk of it would be similar to 19th century steam-technology so it would be maintainable.

It would require a ton of forward planning, but it would work well to conserve resources, and work alongside conventional technology.

$\endgroup$
5
$\begingroup$

Build a "trompe" air compressor.

(https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Trompe and http://www.motherearthnews.com/renewable-energy/hydro-power-zmaz77jazbon.aspx)

This has no moving parts, generates a lot of air pressure and does not disrupt the environment noticeably. If done cleverly it would be easy to build this entirely hidden underground beside a small river.

During zombie attacks you can run the air hose through a hatch to the outside world and use it to power a custom built air-rifle (e.g. a bit of steel pipe with cast-lead musket ball ammo). During more peaceful moments you can run the compressed air through a portable gas turbine to generate electricity.

Also, free air conditioning due to the cooling effect of decompressing ambient temperature air.

No maintenance, no noise, lots of power. Hope you like digging though :) The deeper you go the more pressure/power you can harvest.

$\endgroup$
  • $\begingroup$ Those are really neat, never seen them before. Nice idea $\endgroup$ – Tim B May 25 '16 at 11:56
3
$\begingroup$

Hydro electric plant

enter image description here

  • Runs 24 hours a day, 7 days a week.
  • Weather independent... Well, almost.
  • Can be used as water source.
  • Water body can serve as good zombie defend system (can zombies swim? I do not think so).
  • And, during summer can be used for fun.
$\endgroup$
  • 3
    $\begingroup$ A lot of moving parts to fail though, and a surprising amount of highly technical maintenance. $\endgroup$ – Tim B May 24 '16 at 20:29
  • 4
    $\begingroup$ @TimB Actually hydroelectric turbines are designed to run for years with little maintenance. You can stockpile on rings, bearings, etc and can run for decades. $\endgroup$ – ventsyv May 24 '16 at 21:40
  • $\begingroup$ @TimB Depends a lot on the kind of plant you're talking about. A simple home stream plant can produce more then enough eletricity, while also being simple to maintain (and even build, really). $\endgroup$ – Luaan May 26 '16 at 8:16
3
$\begingroup$

Small Modular (Nuclear) Reactors, or SMRs, are miniature power plants that are buried relatively deep underground. They are self-sustaining and, theoretically, require almost no maintenance... kind of like big batteries.

An SMR loaded on the back of a tractor trailer

Due to being underground, they'd run practically silently, and there'd be very little on the surface to suggest what lies underneath, ensuring that ignorant bandits would see little of value.

I'm not aware of any that have actually been deployed yet, but there are several projects in the works, so I don't think it'd be a stretch to say that there may be a handful in the world within 5 to 10 years (if only prototypes). The Tennessee Valley Authority is planning to test an SMR near Oak Ridge, Tennessee, so in a zombie apocalypse you could head on over there and dig it up or just build your fort on top of it.

$\endgroup$
  • 1
    $\begingroup$ I don't know about the "no maintenance" part. Significantly less maintenance than a nuclear power plant is still a lot of maintenance. And these need to be refueled every couple years, and you're not going to be able to do that, but it would be a very plush two years. As for digging it up, I don't think these are as self-contained as you think. If nothing else they probably need significant additional pieces to deal with waste heat. Though if you have the time, ability, and transport to dig up a 50+ ton nuclear reactor, maybe you should be doing something else? $\endgroup$ – Schwern May 24 '16 at 23:26
  • $\begingroup$ The mars rover uses something similar that's much smaller than 50 tons. Granted, current technology doesn't last very long (2 years), but given a 5 or 10 year timeframe and significant r&d, I bet those figures could reasonably be extended. Consider the progress battery technology has made in a similar timeframe. $\endgroup$ – JDB May 24 '16 at 23:31
  • 2
    $\begingroup$ You're mistaken. Curiosity uses an RTG (already covered in another answer) which is powered by the heat of simple spontaneous radioactive decay, has few moving parts, and generates about 125W of electricity. The rest use solar panels. A nuclear power plant employs a controlled fission reaction to heat steam to turn a turbine to produce megawatts of power. What makes an SMR unique is they're made at a factory, but they're not intended to run independently. $\endgroup$ – Schwern May 24 '16 at 23:40
  • $\begingroup$ Yeah... I really know very little about the tech. :) $\endgroup$ – JDB May 24 '16 at 23:42
2
$\begingroup$

As an addition to some of the others mentioned here, there's also Gravity (or more specifically, transferring-chemical-energy-to-potential-energy-using-humans).

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/GravityLight

The idea is, you hang your light up and fill up the bag with anything heavy (dirt, rocks, tins of food). It slowly spools down from a wire, using gears inside to step up the speed and produce electricity to power bright LEDs.

It may only be useful for lighting, but that reduces the burden of winter nights for your camp, meaning your other stored energy can be used for heating or food refrigeration.

Once your camp is established and secure, you could take one apart and try to build it bigger. If I recall correctly, old clock towers are run on the same technology (just much, much bigger). Not sure how much power it would generate, but it's reliable, continuous (just keep filling it up with dirt, which isn't used up) invisible and quiet.

$\endgroup$
1
$\begingroup$

I'd aim for hand-crafted items that run on solar power. Somewhat like your solar-powered calculator. Works well for things that don't require lots of energy. It's also silent and mobile, and as long as you can keep getting your hands on more solar-powered calculators, you shouldn't have to worry to much about maintenance or running out.

One can also charge batteries this way, for items that may require more energy. Of course, weather can get bad, but we just have to hope we saved enough batteries.

$\endgroup$
  • 3
    $\begingroup$ A solar power calculator needs a trivial amount of power and use inefficient, but durable, amorphous silicon solar cells. I suppose if you found enough you could chain a ton of them together to charge small batteries, but that's a lot of effort for very little payoff. You're better off looting a camping store for serious, durable, ready-to-go solar charging equipment. $\endgroup$ – Schwern May 24 '16 at 21:19
1
$\begingroup$

During a zombie apocalypse, not many people are left. The demand for electricity decreases significantly. Whatever automated systems are in place before the zombie apocalypse started will keep going for a few months until they eventually fail. We survivors will be too busy looking for food to try to repair them. At least that's what I see in the movies. Because your supply of gasoline will be depleted quickly, your left with wind, solar, and hydroelectric. Hydroelectric would run all the time, but would take a lot of work to set up. Solar is good during the day. Wind works well day or night. Solar is the most efficient power source. You hang up the solar cells and they work all day.

$\endgroup$
  • $\begingroup$ Welcome to the site Russell. While realistic the question is specifically asking for a single power solution selected based on efficiency of said power source. Could you expand/edit your answer a bit to accommodate? If you have questions check out the help center or visit us in Worldbuilding Chat $\endgroup$ – James May 25 '16 at 14:02
1
$\begingroup$

This may be a more mundane suggestion, but it's a very realistic way to get a middling amount of power.

I've been exploring ways to power a small arduino weather station inside my greenhouse. Solar was (naturally) suggested in my post on electronics.se and has proven a very viable option. A friend also pointed out that even a very small solar panel can be hooked up directly to a large battery store (I'm using a car battery) and it will "trickle" charge it over a period of time.

An additional benefit is that if the solar panel you are using to charge the battery provides roughly the same amount of power you want to be drawing, you may be able to connect your device directly to the battery terminals and draw power even as it is being added via solar panel - no need for an amperage converter!

In your scenario, if you want a moderate amount of power I'd consider establishing myself a safe distance from one of the solar arrays we see popping up. Hijack the lines (carefully!) from a solar panel and connect it to a number of car batteries. A solar array is not subtle, but you could live quite a distance from it and "harvest" the batteries as needed. You would, of course, have to do so carefully in case there are some thugs waiting for your return, but it's a very easy way to get a lot of power.

Alternately, if you just need a little power just keep as many panels and batteries with you wherever you are (a good back-up option).

$\endgroup$

Your Answer

By clicking “Post Your Answer”, you agree to our terms of service, privacy policy and cookie policy

Not the answer you're looking for? Browse other questions tagged or ask your own question.