Sunday, April 17, 2016

Practical and less practical solutions for the Philippines power crisis

Image/joke: Pappy's

It's summertime in the Philippines, when temperatures take a sadistic spike from what you assumed was already summer and the electricity company takes away your fans, air conditioning and refrigerator power when you need them most. As well as energy for all those other appliances and devices you've foolishly allowed to become integral to your professional and personal life, rather than treating as luxuries that can be arbitrarily recalled.

This is already my third straight year of dealing with summer power out(r)ages, and while I'm no less bitter or more understanding about having my rightfully paid-for power taken away for several hours every day at random times for months on end (sort it out, monopoly electricity provider - you have all of our money), I've got better at handling the annual crisis and keeping it from completely destroying my career, comfort and sanity.

And it turns out I was being unfair to the authorities, who have finally taken an active stance towards resolving the crisis now that it's started to affect the country's main international gateway and become a source of embarrassment in front of other nations, rather than something that just ruins the lives of locals. Who gives a shit about the proles?

I just had to share this eye-bulging article from the Philippine Star, which tells you everything you need to know about how this crisis (and crises generally) is being handled. I swear the following excerpts have been copy-pasted verbatim, it's not a satire site, and this was posted a full week after April 1st. You'll naturally want to check the link to confirm its authenticity. Ready? Here goes:

"With the cause of a five-hour blackout still unknown, an official of the Ninoy Aquino International Airport Terminal 3 has urged NAIA-3 authorities to consult a feng shui expert or geomancer to take away the “bad luck” that officials blamed for the problems that have hampered operations in the facility."

"The official said that the feng shui expert could identify what could be wrong with the building’s design and even exorcise the terminal of “evil spirits” with rituals to appease these spirits."

'Naughty ghost done it'

I bet it was the same spectral sod that planted bullets on innocent passengers too.
Naughty ghost! (Image: Action Figure Adventures)

It's a relief to find I'm not yet past the point where I wouldn't find this hilarious. But as a window on the type of clueless incompetence and perpetually shifted blame that characterises the running of this country and directly affects up to 100 million of us, it's a distinctly black shade of humour. It's like Jam or something.

Trying to find the truth is all but impossible in this opaque political climate, and conspiracy theories for every disease are as prevalent as superstitious remedies. Beyond bad juju, I've seen these brownouts blamed on everything from environmentalist sabotage to the Manila oligarchy's snide retribution against a Davao presidential candidate eyeing their turf.

Personally, I favour Occam's razor. Why does the explanation need to be any different than for every other broken, poorly planned, unregulated and corrupt system around here?

We may be powerless, but we don't have to be powerless

We can't fix this, but we can deal with it. The best way to gain your energy independence while simultaneously giving the finger to your electricity provider is to go solar, which we're planning to do once the more pressing expense of building a place to live is over with. But obviously that isn't an option for the majority of people who are already paying around a tenth of the average income every month to an electricity utility that doesn't even deliver.

I have no idea why the Philippines isn't already taking advantage of its solar abundance to keep the lights on. Maybe they're so used to treating the sun as an enemy - hiding behind parasols, tinted glass and whitening cream - that they can't conceive of it as a force for good. Instead, Mindanao uses hydroelectric dams which predictably run low every single summer, an event that unfailingly catches the operators by surprise. And when have you read anything about global warming that suggests this isn't going to get worse? Building a coal plant to supplement the renewable energy isn't exactly helping in that regard, but luckily for the environment, that thing breaks all the time anyway.

In want of solar panels, we're getting by okay with a portable power bank. My wife picked this one up for ₱5,500 from a mall, and it provides all the juice I need to keep the Wi-Fi running and batteries charged through several sweaty brownouts before it needs a recharge.

Never again do I have to send a pathetic email apologising for not having replied to that email you sent this morning detailing those urgent pages you could really do with before close of business in a few minutes, or make several trips to the internet cafe to email and research while all around me kids noisily shoot the living shit out of each other. I felt terribly unprofessional, though not quite as unprofessional as an official at a major public facility recommending that his boss get the exorcists in and then admitting that to the press.

In summary: go solar or get some portable power, and stop blaming everything on Slimer.

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