From Darkness to Light…

…and back to darkness again.

There’s no point complaining about the number of hours that we have or don’t have electricity each day. Everyone’s complaining, especially the newspapers. So on Saturday – the worst day for us so far, because weekdays we are out of home and on Sunday the electricity gods try to be a little kind – last Saturday it went like this:

• Wake up at 5.30, it’s dark outside and dark inside.
• Get back from tennis at 8, as I come in the door, power goes out.
• Get back from the hospital in time for lunch at 1 p.m., electricity takes a lunch break too.
• Get up from a nap at 4 p.m., electricity goes to take an afternoon siesta.
• Get back from a birthday party at 7 p.m., electricity goes for a cocktail break.
• At 9.40 p.m., kids in bed and asleep, we’re just thinking of settling down with beer and dinner, sanguine that we’ve paid our electric debt to society and should have a fairly “empowered” evening at least, when… electricity bids us goodnight and goes out yet again!

It’s never been this bad. Saturday was so extreme that Amit burnt up the phone lines trying to get an inverter installed on Sunday. Obviously, nobody really wanted to work on Sunday, which was also a national holiday, so various promises were made and broken, while we held our breaths waiting for the next power cut. Luckily, on Sunday, we had only about three hours of power cuts, so we were relaxed and happy by the time we went to bed on Sunday night. (Just imagine!)

On Monday evening, after burning up the phone lines a bit more, three men and an inverter arrived at our front door. Finding no response on ringing the bell, they went around to the back door! This, because we changed our infernally noisy bell on Sunday evening, and, after working nicely the first couple of times, the new bell went on strike and doesn’t work at all. Anyhow, having got us to answer the door, they came in and proceeded to set up the inverter in our living room. It took them a couple of hours and it was close to 10 p.m. by the time they were done, but we were lucky: there were no power cuts while they worked! For the first time in days, the cook, the cleaning woman, and the kids could do their work in a well-lit environment, instead of by candlelight.

Great – so now we have several hours worth of backup lighting.

It has not escaped my attention that by installing an inverter, we are stealing power from the grid when power is supplied (at peak hours) to use it when power is not supplied (also at peak hours). So we are not contributing anything to the power-saving efforts at all. We are just storing up power to use at our convenience. It’s almost like hoarding power. It’s so not green. But when you have two lousy hours at home with your kids each weekday evening, and you are otherwise doomed to spending those hours trying to keep your kids engaged by candlelight, with the attendant risks of something catching fire, to say nothing of wax drops all over the floor and furniture… well, beyond a point you tend to take a rather selfish view of things. At least I do – I’m no saint.

On Tuesday morning, I went for tennis, leaving Amit to handle two power cuts. After the second, when electricity returned and he turned off the inverter, boom! Darkness!

He checked the various electric points not connected to the inverter. They worked. Electricity was back alright. Only, the inverter hadn’t realized it. So none of the points connected to the inverter worked unless the inverter was switched on to give backup power.

Great. So now, after we had used up the few hours worth of backup lighting, we were going to be powerless again. Meanwhile, the fridge was not getting any power and by the time we came home that evening everything would be a mess. Sigh! I rushed around creating an alternative power solution for the fridge and getting horribly late for work.

On Tuesday afternoon Amit called up the inverter guys and explained the situation. Tuesday evening, a very young chap who looked like he shouldn’t be eligible for a driver’s licence yet drove up to our home on a two-wheeler loaded with two inverters. He fiddled with the inverter and informed me that the batteries had not been connected with terminals, but with wires instead. That was bad, but what was worse was that when he switched off the inverter, boom! The lights stayed on. Damn that Murphy’s Law!

It took me a good ten minutes of embarrassment and fumbling explanations (I hadn’t been home when the problem occurred, remember) to be able to reproduce the problem. In the end, in fact, he figured it out himself, and once he had reproduced it a few times, he was forced to conclude that it wasn’t simply a figment of an overactive female imagination or just plain female ineptitude (I could tell that’s what he thought by the way he rolled his eyes when everything worked perfectly), but was an actual problem. One he didn’t have an answer to. He tried to blame it on the missing terminals, but I wasn’t exactly buying that – it looked like a flaw in the machine to me.

Amit, on the phone from office, forced the boy to take away the defective inverter and told him to come back the next day with a fully-functional piece. The poor kid lugged the inverter down and out to where his bike was parked, but a few minutes later he knocked (banged, rather) on the door to tell me there was just no way he could take three inverters on his bike. I had pity on him and allowed him to leave it on our doorstep, though he had already signed something saying he was taking it with him.

The next day, Amit got on the phone with the inverter shop again and very politely (so he says) gave them what for. I stopped payment on the cheque. Combined, the two strategies were alarmingly effective. They sent two of the original three chaps over with a new inverter and battery (but no terminals). Another couple of hours of installing and testing ensued. At the end of it, they convinced Amit that the inverter’s current – apparently whimsical – functionality was as per its design and specifications. They must have been right, because Amit is a tough nut to persuade, and in fact he made a call to the biggest boss of the shop before he would accept the explanation. Don’t ask me – I was busy giving the kids dinner and putting them to bed and having my own dinner.

And all through all of this, the only power cuts we had was when they turned off the lights to test the inverter. In fact, since the inverter got up and running on Wednesday night, we still haven’t had a single power cut. It figures: Murphy’s Law. But I have news for you Mr Murphy. The power cuts will be back. You won’t outsmart the electric gods. This is one game you can’t win.

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6 Responses to From Darkness to Light…

  1. Prakash says:

    This year the power cuts have been horrible, our investment in inverter was a good one. Although I must say that power cuts have drastically reduced in this part of the town…

  2. Supriya says:

    Those who are not home during the day always feel that the power cuts have reduced. All in all, it is a good investment. And I am not so sure that you hoard electricity to use when there’s none to be had. That’s like using a cell phone or an electric car for that matter. The electricity consumed to charge the battery is nowhere near what you save when there is a power cut.
    Fortunately or unfortunately, inverters have become a critical component in our city.

  3. Amit Mukherjee says:

    Well, we have an inverter alright. That’s the good part. Let’s see how long it works.

  4. Prakash says:

    Another comment on going green. You are not adding anything else in the atmosphere, it is same as getting full day power isnt it? Yes I agree that if you dont use power at all it is green but thats not practical. I have also seen that using inverter, you consume less because you only switch on what is required. You will be “Greener” in overall sense!

  5. poupee97 says:

    Supriya: I don’t think it’s like using an electric car. An electric car replaces a fossil-fuel car, presumably, (not a cycle or a bus or walking) so it’s debatable whether it is greener than a conventional car of the same size, though it might be cheaper. A mobile “hoards” electricity just like any other rechargeable battery-operated device does, including UPSs and even emergency lights. If we get an inverter large enough to meet all our “usual” electricity requirements during the entire duration of power cuts, then we are using the same amount of electricity. It isn’t any less – remember, it charges or consumes electricity all day, whereas, since we’re not home all day on weekdays, our usual consumption would be zero in the daytime.

    Prakash: I agree with you – it is the same as getting power all day and using what you need. And yes, when you are using an inverter you are more careful about how much power you are using, so that’s a good thing. But still.

  6. Prakash says:

    There is definitely “But Still” factor – efficiency of conversion from ACC to DC and back, obviously the process is not 100% efficient…

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