Monday, 4 March 2013

Light Of The World

Yesterday there was a power outage which injected a period of reality into our everyday life.  It was just before the time for our afternoon cup of tea which was annoying.  Because of my “thing” about power surges, there was a short period of running around switching off everything leaving only one light to show when the power might return.

As the gloom gathered we began to consider the options.  One might have been to go out to a pub’, but these days Sundays means out of control kids along with parents often even more out of control.  Luckily, there is a battery radio which meant we could have had sound.

If the critics are right it may not be too long before this kind of thing becomes not a rare or short lasting event but something we need to be ready for and assume will happen on a frequent basis.  Also, the outages will be unpredictable which means making sure that foods are available.

Those who recall the longer past will know times when this was usual.  Not only were gas and electricity supplies irregular but there were the added problems of the risk of running out of cash before pay day or more annoying being short of shillings for the meter when either shops were shut or had none in the till.

In a town with a good many engineering works of all sizes there were a lot of “knock off” metal discs that might work.  But the meter inspectors were wise to those and while you might get away with the rare odd one you would not if they were found too often.  

If you were unlucky enough to use one that jammed the slot you were in real trouble.  Replacement meters cost a great deal.  During the war they were also hard to source so you could be waiting weeks.  It simply was not worth the risk, but there were always those who tried it and failed.

For many years over much of the country we have become used to regular and reliable power.  When during very bad weather conditions there are some losses it makes the news and we all wonder how it can happen and the utilities are expected to reconnect the systems within hours if not minutes.

But in the world of the past while we did depend a great deal on these supplies it was nothing like the extent to which we have come to rely on them at the present time.  Yet the whole system and chain of supply is far more complex and also heavily dependent itself on computer technology and associated power demands.

Over the last two decades we have had governments that have fudged and fiddled with energy policy, extra national organisations such as the EU added layers and layers of decision processes and complexity.  

Added to that we have had all the financial chancers and schemers coming up to lobby for expensive schemes publicly funded that sound good when spinned but do not deal with the major issues of the ways and means of supply nor with the need to keep costs under control for the benefit of the economy.

One quote I grew up with was that said to be by Earl Grey, the Foreign Secretary at the start of the First World War, “The lamps are going out all over Europe, we shall not see them lit again in our time.”  At the moment Europe is fixated by money and the hurly burly of elections and politics as it was in the first decade of the 20th Century.

If they are not careful the lamps may very well go out for quite long periods and the computers go down with them.

1 comment:

  1. We live in the country with overhead mains and power cuts happen three or four times a year. Not usually for long although we were out once for 4 days when a transformer on a pole failed. Hence we have a generator - 2000 watts - and a coal fire. (No gas here) The generator keeps the lights on and runs the computer, microwave, TV, etc. With the incompetence of successive governments, a generator is a wise investment.