Saturday, August 24, 2019

powering down

Our connection with modernity is a thin thread.

Yesterday I was sitting in the patio putting the final touches on my drug rehabilitation essay when I heard it. The emergency generator that powers the communications tower next door.

That meant I had lost electrical power in the house. No refrigeration. No fans. No water pump. And, most importantly for what I was doing, no wifi.

In one second I was rocketed out of the twenty-first century into the nineteenth. It was the exact feeling I had when I was locked outside of the house in my underwear with no telephone and no money.

I knew what had happened yesterday. I told you last September in listening to my symphony about the new bungalows that are being built around the corner from my house. The builders have completed the bones of the structure, and on Thursday our government-owned electrical company (CFE) was on the scene to hook up electricity.

It turned out to be a two-day process. CFE spent Thursday digging up an old utility pole and installing a new one. I assume the crew shut off the neighborhood power Friday morning to finish up their work.

Every country has power outages. When I lived in Salem, PGE (the triple-initial provider of electricity in my part of Oregon) would periodically perform maintenance on the infrastructure. That work required power in large areas to be shut off. The outages were always preceded by a public announcement. Of course, there were also unannounced outages from wind storms and the rare silver thaw.

CFE does not announce its outages. There are probably a lot of reasons for that, particularly cost. I asked a Mexican friend why CFE did not warn customers of its scheduled outages. He asked me what I would do with the information.

He was correct. Other than taking food out of the refrigerator to temporarily store it in ice chests, I doubt I would do anything.

While my refrigerators warmed up and my fans stood still, I drove over to Rooster's in San Patricio to polish and publish my essay. But the power outage did raise a question about my solar power array.

During a normal summer day the panels generate more power than I could possibly use. The excess is transmitted to CFE through the power lines for re-sale.

It occurred to me that no one told me what happens when I no longer have power coming to my house from CFE. This is what I think.

The solar panels continue doing their job generating electricity by providing a dance floor for photons and electrons. But, because the power to my house is turned off, the resulting electricity cannot be transmitted to CFE. The effect is like those college dorm conversations of my benighted youth -- lots of activity, no practical application.

I was thinking about how futile that process is until I also realized as long as the power was turned off to the house, I was not using power myself. Other than the excess credits I lost for the day, it was a power wash.

CFE finished up its work early in the afternoon and switched on the power. This morning it is as if nothing out of the ordinary had happened yesterday.

Those of us who live in Mexico are fortunate to have a regular supply of electricity. There are plenty of places where people do not have electricity or have limited access to it. If you lived in South Sudan, only 5% of your neighbors would have electricity. If you lived in Pakistan, you could expect 75 power outages each month. If you lived in Venezuela, power would be available only limited hours each day -- as is true with Syria.

What encourages me about our outages here is that it reminds me humans can cope without power (as they do in South Sudan, Pakistan, Syria, and Venezuela). It is possible to live without the conveniences that electricity offers.

Of course, that is a bit narcissistic. I might be able to cope temporarily without electricity, but a nation cannot. There are goods to be produced and mouths to be fed. And to do that efficiently requires a power grid that works.

I am happy this morning to see the blinking light on my Telcel modem -- because it means that I get to chat with you.

Just by hitting the publishing button. Now.

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