The Boy Who Kept Some of the Lights On

or "The Boy Who Harnessed the Wind" and "Keeping Some of the Lights On: Redefining Energy Security"

I watched the movie the other day, and afterwards I kept thinking about the article.

The movie: "The Boy Who Harnessed the Wind"

The article: "Keeping Some of the Lights On: Redefining Energy Security"

William, our movie protagonist and real-world person, comes from a village called Wimbe. As I understand there is a larger town nearby (still tiny, but larger than Wimbe). In this town there is at least some source of electricity, because we see speakers and microphones on a temporary stage at one point. This source may be intermittent; I don't know.

In Wimbe, however, there is no electricity save for a few terribly old batteries. And a dynamo, which a teacher from town has on his bike.

What struck me is this: I use more electricity in a day than was consumed in all of Wimbe in a full year 21 years ago. That's when the movie takes place, and I don't really know what it's like there now. Of course, when you don't have any source of electricity you can't consume any. The fact that they are lacking doesn't mean they wouldn't tangibly benefit from having, which is also a major point in the movie. With just a little bit of electricity mortality in Wimbe can be immediately and permanently reduced.

We know that a lot of cooking today is still done over open fire, and that this contributes to higher mortality rates due to carbon monoxide poisoning. So let's not fool ourselves that an incredibly primitive and poor life is an easy or desirable one.

But I do wonder how much electricity I actually need to use be happy. To some extent it comes down to actual basic needs like food, heat, and light. In winter we have a month or so where we only get a handful of hours of bleak sunlight each day; saying that I should sleep when it's dark doesn't really make sense then. And my need for a well insulated and heated home is definitely higher than that of the average person living in Malawi.

There's also structural and social things, like the fact that functioning in Swedish society today is noticeably more difficult if you don't have a smart phone.

I'd like to experiment at some point, to see what the bare minimum is before life starts becoming difficult and burdensome. I have a feeling that washing machine and dishwasher are near-indispensable, because without them I'd have to spend literally tens of hours each week on basic chores. Likewise the stove, fridge, and freezer are needed. I don't know how else I would cook or keep food. TV and playstation are definitely not necessities, however. And we've already seen a large decrease in our electricity usage in the last year since we stopped using the tumble dryer, even though we're working from home and watching more movies now. Haven't missed the tumble dryer one bit.

What's your bare necessities in electricity consumption?

-- CC0 Björn Wärmedal