Editor’s Note :

Wednesday, June 23, 2021

Few things concentrate the brain cells better than a good blackout. ‘Where’s the wifi?’ will arise the collective wail from 30 million Ukrainian smart phone holders. Given Ukraine’s political gridlock over the electricity grid, a therapeutic blackout or two might disabuse people of the notion that electricity always will flow, like water from the tap.

From the mid-1970s to the mid-1990s, I spent a total of 10 years reporting in Brazil. In the 1960s, Brazil’s ruling military had a vision for their nation that did not include its rickety power supply – quaintly called the ‘vaga-lume’, or firefly. The generals responded by building Itaipu, a massive hydroelectric dam. To this day, Itaipu is second only to China’s Three Gorges Dam in electricity production. I was there in 1984 for the closing of the spillways that created a reservoir capable of producing 14 gigawatts of power – equivalent to Ukraine’s combined solar and wind installed capacity.

One night 25 years later, in 2009, a new generation of Brazilians learned where electricity comes from. A violent rainstorm knocked out Itaipu’s two high voltage power lines. All of Paraguay lost power. About 50 million Brazilians, including all of Rio de Janeiro and São Paulo states, sat in the dark for two hours.

Sitting in the dark — without lights, TV, internet, air conditioning or cellphones — could help Ukrainians forge a national consensus to take tough steps to bring their Soviet-era electricity system into the 2020s. With Best Regards, Jim Brooke.

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