Electricity Humbug

Electricity Humbug
Centenery Electricity Exhibition shows stands for Lawrence & Hanson, Australian General Electric, Electrolux, Dux Hot Water, part of Metters and the Philips stands
Centenary Electricity Exhibition, 1935. Photo by Lyle Fowler (1891-1969)
Harold Paynting Collection, State Library of Victoria

The other day, our electricity went out, and I was a little surprised about how dependent on it we’ve become. Even though I’ve written about that before.

Aside from the alarm not going off, the central heating didn’t kick in, the hot water tank didn’t stay hot, and even worse – the coffee machine wasn’t working!

Not to mention, no heated towel rails, refrigerators, dishwashers, clothes washers, radios and televisions.

But right then, I was also grateful I wasn’t still on dialysis and didn’t have to worry about that.

And, of course, we couldn’t access the Internet, because the National Broadband Network is powered by electricity. Though it’s incredibly unreliable where I live anyway; I lose connectivity with almost predictable regularity – morning, afternoon and evening.

And just in case you don’t live here and think I’m a big whiner (and some would agree with you), almost all communication runs through the NBN, so when it goes down;

  • Businesses can’t take electronic payments and you have to do without stuff like coffees and lunches if you can’t scrape up the cash (and they lose sales).
  • The closest ATMs may shut down so you can’t withdraw any cash.
  • You can’t make or receive business or personal phone calls without a mobile phone. Too bad if there’s an emergency.

But because you can’t have shadow without light, there’s a bright side to losing power as well.

  • I can use my bottled gas barbeque to boil a pan of water for coffee and fry bacon and eggs for breakfast. I think you might have to be Australian to understand the excitement of a barbie breakfast.
  • My new “sheepskin” lined track pants are toasty warm.
  • Can’t vacuum! Oh wait, it runs on rechargeable batteries. Doh!
  • The phone won’t ring so I won’t be interrupted.
  • Without email access, I can’t waste time and have to get to work straight away. Yay productivity!
  • When the laptop battery runs out, I’ll be forced to take some time off and relax. And I just got The Cruellest Month from the library.
  • The maintenance vehicles with their orange cones and flashing lights are quite exciting.
  • The birds are still around to watch and listen to.
  • I’m saving money by not using any power!

It’s good to be reminded now and then, that all the technology we think we need isn’t all that.

The Bureau of Meteorology is predicting a long, hot and dry summer. And with fewer coal-fired power stations, and renewables not yet hooked up to the network, we can look forward to more frequent black and brownouts.

So maybe it’s time for us all to start thinking more seriously about what we can do to reduce our unsustainable dependence on mains electricity.

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