A few weeks ago, the entire island of Jamaica lost power. It happened around 5:30pm on a Saturday evening, and at first I only noticed because I had been in the middle of a Netflix movie and the wifi cut out. As the sun went down and the darkness set it, I passed the time listening to music on my laptop and reading by candlelight. Around 8:30pm I began to worry that I might regret using up my laptop battery and so many candles (my mom sent me a bag of citronella tea lights, of which I had lit ten in a moment of extravagance), but thankfully things clicked back on around 9pm, just in time for me to switch on the AC before I went to sleep.
There was no good reason for the entire island to lose power for +4 hours, no storm of any kind, no major system upgrade underway. According to initial reports, a ‘procedural error’ caused the power outage. The government has sworn to look into the matter.
At the time, it reminded me of the first time the power went out. Similar time of night, similar scope – at least ½ the island lost power that time, supposedly because of human error. I must have had data on my phone as I recall texting with the other Cuso volunteers to pass the time, each of us updating as we were reconnected, piecing together the story from social media, neighbours, and news reports.
Tonight I found myself sitting in the dark once again. The power boomed off for about 30 minutes around 7pm. This time was definitely smaller in scope – I know because I could see the glow of the National Stadium in the distance.
In the darkness, I found myself thinking about a major storm that knocked the power out for thousands of people in BC the same day I moved into my condo last fall, and about the time in university where all of Ontario, Quebec and parts of the north eastern USA lost power for over 24 hours. I thought about how an entire country – 3 million people – lost power for 4 hours and media outside of the country didn’t even notice. I thought about how ‘unreliable power’ is one of the reasons Jamaica is considered a developing country, even though the same thing can happen in Canada and it is just considered a fiasco.
Since the 4 hour power outage the other week, I have purchased a Luci. I saw it advertised online and thought it looked pretty handy for an emergency (be it a hurricane or a ‘procedural error’), and at $1500JA (roughly $15CA) it seemed like a worthwhile investment. I’ve been using it as a bedside lamp for the past two weeks, and so far I am impressed with the results. Tonight, when the power went out, I barely missed a beat. The best part is that it squishes down to be a inch thick, so I can fit it in my suitcase when it is time to go back to Canada.
MPOWERD, the makers of the Luci, offer a program where you can purchase one for someone in a developing country for $12US. Their website reminds visitors that “1.5 billion people in the developing world still live without reliable access to electricity”. I wouldn’t have lumped Jamaica into that statistic (other than these 3 blips, I have had reliable and consistent power at all times since I arrived), but the truth is that energy here is very expensive, and the grid can be unreliable because of people stealing current for their homes.
The solution for Jamaica is solar power; lots of sun plus very high traditional energy costs make solar energy a realistic and viable option. Companies like MPOWERD offer small-scale solutions at a lower first cost, but if people can figure out how to finance the initial cost, photovoltaics will pay for themselves in no time at all, creating energy independence, which would be meaningful both financially and culturally. An added bonus is that the only ‘procedural errors’ you have to deal with when you have PVs are your own! Once again, the solution to many interdependent problems is an environmental friendly one.