The story goes that there is a little boy living in an Ethiopian village whose name is Electricity. He was born the same day that the village got electricity.
I get it. If I had a kid here I’d probably name him Electricity too. Because electricity is such a brilliant thing and you don’t know what you got ‘til it’s gone.
I’ll be honest. I didn’t really spend too much time thinking about electricity back in Finland. It came from a box in the wall. Engineers knew about it. In the past 5 years, I’d never experienced a power cut in my apartment.
That last sentence seems absurd now. Power cuts are the norm in Ethiopia.
It makes you irritated but also builds certain humbleness.
You are about to bake cinnamon rolls. Power cut! Well you will not. You are about to turn up the stereo and get ready with your dance moves. Power cut! Sit on the sofa (if you can find it in the dark) and read instead.
You are walking to the closest internet café because your internet device is not working (another post on that) just to find out that there is no power in the internet café. So, you walk back home defeated but not depressed.
You are sitting in a crowded restaurant and suddenly…power cut! However, no one is surprised. The laughter and eating continues in a dark room.
So it is a bit funny to think of Finland now. Pardon me but sometimes I’d like to say: YOU SPOILED BRATS!
It is normal. When a resource is scarce, we tend to appreciate it more. When it is (at least seemingly) abundant, we forget how life was without it in the first place. We become comfortable.
Experiencing these power cuts frequently, I have become interested in how Ethiopia is doing in the energy sector.
So I did some research.
Currently about 16 % of the Ethiopian population has access to energy. The average in Sub-Saharan Africa is 26 %.
And here’s what you need to know about Ethiopia:
Its population has tripled since the beginning of the 1980s. Please read that sentence again. Its current population is 95 million. It is a huge country. Area wise you could easily fit both Germany and France in Ethiopia. It is that huge.
Although access to energy is improving, it does not mean people will use it. Simply put, many of the poor cannot afford to pay the cost for the distribution lines from the national grid to their houses.
It is very important to understand that paradox of access. It applies to both energy and food. Access does not mean availability or use.
Out of the total energy consumption in Ethiopia only about 10 % is supplied by electric power. The rest is energy produced from wood and dung.
Of all the electricity produced, 86 % comes from hydropower, 13 % from diesel and 1 % is geothermal. The country has only minor oil resources. Wind mills are looked into as a potential energy source and many NGOs work with solar energy projects in the rural areas.
The selling price of electricity in Ethiopia is subsidized by the government. It is to ensure access of energy to the poor.
However, since the poor cannot always afford electricity in the first place, there is criticism that these subsidies are just benefitting the people who are better off.
We pay less than 0,5 Ethiopian birr (about 0,02 euros) for one kWh. It is, in my opinion, ridiculously cheap. Could there be a progressive electricity price based on income?
And for all the spoiled brats out there: try power cuts. You will get used to them. Your iPhone will get used to them.
Let’s not call it downshifting. Let’s instead call it mindset-shifting. There is nothing like that feeling when power eventually comes back the next minute or the next morning. You will feel so grateful! You might even want to name your kid Electricity!
This video, although not specifically dealing with electricity, sums it all up:
p.s. Things you start appreciating when power cuts are a frequent part of your life:
- Creativity. It just sort of starts to flow through you when there is not much to do.
- Reading. Reading a tremendous amount of books. As long as you have power in your Kindle.
- Your cats (who love power cuts because they get more attention).
- Not caring about your looks all the time because you can’t see you.
Things you become uncomfortable with when power cuts are a frequent part of your life:
- Was that a cockroach on my foot?
- The milk in my fridge has gone bad. Again.
- I was just about to watch an episode of Luther or True Detective.
- Feeling like you are in a scene of Silence of the Lambs when you walk in a pitch black apartment and look for your cats’ toys with a flashlight. You are sure a serial killer is behind the corner (wearing special see-through-dark glasses).