Here's a question for all of you mechanically inclined types. How practical and difficult would it be to build a stationary steam engine and couple it to a generator for emergency power? I have access to lots of wood and water. My thought is that when everything goes to hell in a handbasket I have everything required to operate a steam engine recognizing the fact that it would probably not be good for providing 24/7 power. However, several hours a day would certainly keep the freezer from thawing out.
Steam power is a viable, albeit, a time consuming and if you are using wood for a heat source, not the most efficient. Were I to use steam power, I would also consider using it for heating during the winter months as well, just to get the most efficiency out of the fire Ive lit. Probably the most reliable system for power would be in the use of a positive displacement piston steam engine, such as was used for train locomotion, shipboard propulsion and farm equipment, years ago. One thing good about steam is that the water can be totally recyclable, with the use of heat exchangers, which are like a radiator (back to winter heating again). You might consider looking on line at the varous steam systems as well as you may well be able to find some in kit form, that might answer the needs of your situation. One thing in steams favor is that its a very powerful power source, and could be used to run a variety of equipment from its output shaft(s), such as generators, PTO's to run wood cutting equipment. that would answer your needs. I am contemplating building a wood gasifier system, myself, and would use that to power a generator to recharge the batteries used for electricity. This would be used in conjunction with solar panels. The average home could get by on a system of about 6000 watts of 120 volt ac current, quite well, which would require 60,000 watts of 12 volt dc power to invert.
Others do have more info or experience than me when it comes to gasification, Stirlings, steam, etc ... but I have one question ... what do you mean by having lots of water? Is it running? if it is, I would go to water directly to turn wheels to turn generator. It takes only a little to run a 12V generator/alternator and seem to be the choice in many places ... to me, this is best as there is no smoke rising to signal your presence
I don't have running water but I do have a fair sized pond and if I have electricity I have a well that will put out about 80 gallons a minute.
If you have water, you do not need steam. You can create a water flow with a nozzle and enough hydraulic pressure to turn a type of turbine to power an alternator or a voltage regulator (for 12 vote electricity) using parts and electrical from an old (or new) car and with "adaptors" to power your fridge and other appliances.