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“Reasonable” Power Cuts
Don't Fall for It.
The mobile phone above is a Nokia 1661. It was what Nokia coined an Ultrabasic phone released at the end of the 00’s primarily for the developing world. This was just as smartphones were beginning to drop in price and the rest would be history. Nowadays, smartphones can be purchased for under $100.00 USD with mobile carrier subsidies and are widely available in nearly every country - rich or poor. Although it’s surprising what has, can, and is still done using basic feature phones.
Nokia released several of these super simple, dirt cheap phones (mind you these would still be relatively expensive in many developing nations given the lower salaries - this phone cost roughly 1/5 of a month’s minimum salary in Chile at the time and easily would be over a month’s salary in neighboring Bolivia) with the inclusion of something novel: a flashlight.
No, not a camera flash, a flashlight.
Why? Because Nokia’s primary market for these phones were those in the developing and as energy author Robert Bryce calls, the unempowered world. The unempowered world refers to populations who use little to no electrical energy relative to those in the empowered world. Increased use of energy, especially the use of electrical energy, is linked to income, increased life expectancy, and quality of life in general. Green hysterics in the developed and empowered world downplay this at the expense of the most vulnerable. In a world where electricity is scarce or unreliable, the flashlight on these mobile phones provid(ed) a cheap and always available form of light someone could use, say, to enter their unlit home or walk down a street not illuminated by streetlights.
Mobile phones began to seriously penetrate even the poorest nations in the early 2000’s with such types of phones. And back in that day, because they lacked the majority of features taken for granted in modern smartphones, these phones lasted days on one charge. An owner of such a phone seldom had to worry about charging the phone every night. It was likely pretty common back in the day, and even perhaps still to this day in many places around the world that mobile phones are charged somewhere other than a person’s home.
I’ve traveled primarily to developing nations, particularly in Latin America. I’ve been to places, even in relatively wealthy Chile where there were areas without electrical service and instead these areas were served by individual generators which were only powered on when needed. These areas were dozens of miles in the Andes mountains on poorly maintained dirt roads at least an hour by 4x4 from the closest gas station at that. Refrigeration was provided by propane similar to ones used in RVs, also trucked in. The cost to fuel these generators and refrigerators is typically far more expensive than normal electrical service making just basic energy needs very expensive to those without the means as is typical even among the poor in the developed world. Mind you this was Chile, which is often measured as one of the most developed nations in Latin America. I’ve also traveled to a handful of other nations in Central and South America as well as the Dominican Republic (DR). There in the DR, where I spent time, we were told to expect the power to cut at any time of the day, and to expect to wait for hours, if not a day, for service to be resumed. It was a fact of life, said the locals. I’ve been given similar advice from locals in El Salvador and Peru.
Electrical blackouts and general system unreliability are practically a fact of life in many of these places - that’s part of why these places are considered to be developing. Today, the flashlight on Ultrabasic phones has been replaced by the camera flash, typically on smartphones or souped-up basic phones, which are becoming far more common in developing nations.
But why all this on flashlights built into phones? Because the trend in the developed, empowered world, is being steered towards an age of decreasing reliability of the electrical grid.
We could highlight a number of places going the wrong direction with electrical energy but most do not top the utter jaw-dropping incompetence and decline than the soon-to-be former industrial powerhouse, Germany.
Eugyppius, who appears to be living in the madness that is Germany’s failed energy policies, noted back in August massive shortages of heat pumps, the supposed technology the all electric crowd touts as the solution to “green” heating and cooling and how this can and will lead to blackouts this winter as Germany’s electrical demand spikes among decreasingly reliable supply.
And just to think, Eugyppius wrote this before the destruction of the Nordstream 1 and 2 pipelines.
The Greens have spent years promoting electricity as the only environmentally responsible sustainable solution, shutting down our nuclear power plants, pouring untold billions into wind and solar which do not work, and burning cheap Russian gas as a fake “transitional” measure to hold the whole scam together. It’s no accident that former chancellor Angela Merkel, responsible for our disastrous decision to phase out nuclear power, fought so hard for Nord Stream 2. But now the Russian gas is gone, and random plumbers in Starnberg are praying that new heat pumps are delayed long enough to spare their fragile electrical grid new shocks ahead of winter.
Part of Germany’s strategy to “go Green” is to rely ever increasingly on all-electric devices and appliances to replace gas or oil-powered ones. Coupled with wind droughts, cut off natural gas supplies, and the murder of the country’s nuclear reactors, this hasn’t been going so well for the Germans. This is increasingly turning their country into a place mirroring that of the issues facing those in developing nations.
Fast forwarding another few weeks, Berlin’s mayor was quoted as saying two to three hour blackouts this winter are “reasonable,” and cites the increased purchase and use of electric-based heating devices as the primary culprit. Politicians, who are often cut off and out of touch from the realities of normal people, are the some of the last people who should be deciding what is “reasonable” or not for others.
To elaborate further, here is an example of a German politician demanding the plebs stop whining about potential blackouts this upcoming winter and instead consider wearing two sweaters and have some candles (a notorious fire hazard things such as flashlights and later Nokia 1161 replaced) ready for nighttime illumination. (as if flashlights, batteries, phones, etc don’t exist). Politicians, are also notorious for downplaying such events which leads me to believe that a blackout is likely to last far more than a few hours. Note that large parts of German cities run on district heating, which also requires the use of electricity.
Irina Slav, points out succinctly too in a piece she wrote over the summer called Life with Energy Scarcity 101, excerpt below.
It is because of this experience that I tend to switch to grave irony whenever I read about the latest pseudo-moral statement by a European politician. I still remember how cold and miserable I was every single freezing day in the winter of 1997/98. None of those politicians, I bet, has ever experienced a similar degree of thermal discomfort. And I had it way better than a lot of people who are either homeless or cannot pay for their heating so they are forced to turn it off completely. You can die of cold. - Irina Slav
It’s worth keeping in mind that more people die each year of cold-related deaths and than heat-related ones.
Equally unserious and out of touch are the Corporate Press. Take Politico for example to provide us with top-class cringe.
And here’s even a checklist document prepared by the German Federal Office for Civil Protection and Disaster Assistance (BBK in German), there they insist that one should prepare to sustain themselves for ten days of food, water, medicines, hygiene supplies, fire protection, and of course, energy. Mind you this isn’t for electrical blackouts alone but for disasters in general.
Here’s the translation:
Still, the thought of having to prepare for ten days of utter uncertainty is probably daunting for many and out of reach for those who are living day to day in poverty.
Some might read this and walk away thinking energy shortages for small periods of time are not big deal. Rest assured that in developing countries, they range from being a minor inconvenience to being deadly. A small outage could spoil a household’s food for example. Food that took several days worth of work to be able to purchase. Someone either at home or in a medical facility could be left without life-saving medical devices. It’s happened and it’s part of why infant and maternal mortality rates are much higher in developing nations. Likewise with a business whose stock is now worthless due to being spoiled. When people are in survival mode, which can easily happen during a cold snap, they are likely to try anything to keep warm up to and including overloading the working electrical grid regardless of demands to cut use.
By all means I’d encourage conservation whenever possible, but never show your cards to politicians or others who have little or no skin in the game. Useful idiots in California made fools of themselves boasting over social media last month bragging about their reduction in electricity during the few days the system nearly failed. This only resulted in the incompetent abusers in power becoming further incentivized to continue their abuse. Remind politicians it is their duty to serve you, the citizen, and that includes up to and beyond sensible and reliable energy. Be ready to kick these people out of office in the next election. And prepare to reform governments to have as little unelected bureaucrats as possible.