Monday, August 6, 2007

Gatos - Energy Thieves

In the poorer areas in Brazil’s cities, you might run into an image as is shown above: streetlights with numerous cables attached to it. Gatos (cats) have been at work here, tapping electricity illegally from the city grid in order to light their houses. Of course, this is a crime, and the criminals are traced easily just by tracing the cables from the streetlights into the houses.

In Rio’s favela Rocinha we would be talking about 150.000 energy thieves. But the power company prefers to talk about potential customers instead, and is acting accordingly. It is trying to convince the slum residents to install a meter to get charged for the energy. Strange as it may seem, the pragmatic approach paid off, as in the first three years the energy company reported to have saved 210 gigawatts, enough to power 100.000 houses for a year.

Once again I’d like to quote Minister of Culture Gilberto Gil in this context: “The Brazilian government is definitely pro law, but when the law does not apply to reality, the law has to be changed. That’s not new. It is civilization as usual”

Sources: Shadow Cities – Robert Neuwirth; We Pledge Allegiance to the Penguin – Wired Magazine


Erik said...

Dear Maurits,
I have heard of a similar approach in an African country regarding the distribution of water. There they prefer not to cut people off when they do not pay their bills. In reality that would very likely result in the illegal use of water.
In stead the water company tries to keep people in the loop, so to speak. If clients cannot pay, they try to make some arrangement.
I agree with Gilberto Gill. We designed the system to serve us. Not the other way around.

Maurits said...

Hi Erik, that sounds interesting. Do you have some more information? Which country are you talking about? How is the water company dealing with these problems?