"50000 electricity, please"
The F’13 batch of Hacker School ended. I left New York and headed to Kampala. Kampala and New York are two strikingly different cities. Over the next few posts I hope to hilight a few of those differences - starting with electricity.
Like buying credit to top-up your phone to make calls you buy electricity credit to run your apartment. Prepaid electricity! On the wall just inside the entrance door is a small digital panel with a keypad. The panel shows how many KWhs you have left. When it reaches 0, you are out of electricity.
The normal flow to ensure you have juice in your sockets goes like this:
- The panel on the wall starts beeping, annoyingly telling you that you’re soon out of KWhs.
- You head to the closest supermarket where there’s a hole in the wall (photo above).
- "I want electricity for 50000 Ugandan shilling" No idea what this translates to in KWhs.
- In return you get a code with electricity credit (exactly like a phone top-up).
- Back home, enter the code on the panel, annoying beeps stops and you can hack away again.
This is brilliant for, at least, two reasons. First, Ugandans are used to the top-up/prepaid kind of thinking. Surely there are other methods for paying for things and services, but buying airtime (more on that in another post) and X thousand of something appears extremely common. You do it for your phone or when you go to the market: “3000 tomatoes, please.”
Secondly, and perhaps more importantly, you become shockingly aware of how much electricity you consume. I’m notoriously bad at switching off sockets and appliances on stand-by. Here, maybe I might learn a lesson or two. Electricity is more expensive (and less reliable) compared to Sweden. Sweden happens to have some of the cheapest electricity in the world partly thanks the hydropower generated by the many rivers in the north. But by seeing that number crawl to zero you know that everyday you consume. The water heater eating up most of it (when it’s on), fridge and freezer contributing to a steady decline, and then a number of appliances such as lights, computers and phones that need frequent charging. It doesn’t give you a nice things-by-thing breakdown, but hey, awareness is the first step!
As part of the research project where I previously worked we spent a lot of time thinking about incentives to reduce (or optimise) your consumption while maintaining comfort. Perhaps that extra walk down to the supermarket is sufficient to get you thinking about your usage?