The Berlin Perspective: Sucking Out Sockets

We have become so politically correct, by doing everything to save electricity. We turn off the light when we don’t need it. Well, we actually don’t, but in theory we do. We also completely switch off the DVD player we have not used since ‘Titanic’ was released in 1999. Actually, we left it on ‘standby’ since.

By not doing what we are supposed to do, we waste kilowatt hours of power every day. That stupid DVD player probably has its own nuclear power plant by now. So does the router which provides the Internet connection we can not live without.

Well, Berliners in the city’s Köpenick district and neighboring boroughs can. They proved it by going through a 31-hour power outage caused by a Swiss company which accidentally cut several important underground cables. This was one of the longest electricity failures in the history of the Federal Republic of Germany.

Many of the 31,000 Berliners affected, who are just being reconnected to the grid as we speak, were annoyed. Some were cold. Others could not chat with their sweetheart overseas or make themselves a cup of hot chocolate. They could not read the Tweets telling them they could not read the Tweets due to a power outage.

The fact of the matter is: This can and will happen again. Being prepared is an advantage for the average consumer, and a necessity for hospitals and other important facilities. The clinic in Köpenick needed to be evacuated in part since its emergency generator did not work properly.

If this outage had been a test for all of Berlin, or all of Germany, we would have failed it in part. But the police and fire brigade did an excellent job by sending units into the dark areas, just in case. Better be safe than sorry.

The worst power blackout ever happened in India in 2012. Over 600 million people (no typo) were affected. It lasted a day. But then, India does not have the kind of relatively safe electricity grid Germany relies on.

This millennium, there were more power cuts affecting tens of millions of people in India, Bangladesh, Pakistan and Bali. In 1999, almost 100 million people in Brazil did not have electricity for four hours. Another incident affecting both Brazil and Paraguay was similar.

Yes, it does hit the Western world too. In 2003, 45 million U.S. residents in eight states and ten million people in the Canadian province Ontario were without power. For many of them, it took two days until they were back online. Of course tropical storms and hurricanes on the U.S. East Coast cause this kind of problem too.

The thing is: We are spoiled. When it happens once in a decade, we feel helpless, we get angry and nervous, even though there are regions in which outages happen far more often.

When I lived in Northern Virginia, it happened once a month, whenever there was rain with strong winds, because the Americans do not seem to want to dig their power lines into the ground. The U.S. has 104 nuclear power plants, but their grid is not secure.

Also I have lived in Bulgaria for many years. Nobody beats the Bulgarians when it comes to power outages. Take my word for it. Read by lips: “They are the best.” I will spare you the details.

Let’s continue sucking out the sockets with our toasters, heated blankets and espresso machines. But let’s be prepared. Well, to be honest: I’d be the first to suffer a damned heart attack if the power disappeared for only a minute.