My name is Ale Fernandez. I live in Barcelona, Spain and I'm Chilean and Italian.
I am a web developer, artist and technical researcher.
I've lived in Scotland, Italy, Spain and England and career-wise I am interested in distributed systems and their applications to improvised performance and ecology.

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11/30/2017

Electric Disobedience

Electric disobedience is a radical lifestyle where you attempt to use the least possible amount of commercial petrol or fossil fuel based electricity normally purchased from large companies, and which is frequently the source of many environmental or cultural/societal issues for the workers and local people in these places.

Endesa/Enel for example are to blame for a lot of extractive projects that directly affect the lives of local communities in Araucanía that enjoy a natural commons that gives them fresh water and fertile crops. There are countless examples of ecological and societal disaster at the hands of large producers in extractive industries. Not only do these activities affect the lives of these people, but also those of the users of that electricity in the northern hemisphere, who as passive consumers can't escape an oligarchy of companies that may be the only providers in any westernised enough city, and that in the end depends on the existence of alienated over-consumers. On top of this they are said to be most on time in all the land if it comes to cutting your power off. Cutting it off is illegal so in Spain/Catalonia it is normally outsourced by Endesa to other companies who claim they are only doing their job. In Spain on top of that, energy company Repsol gets a cut on any PV system connected to the grid. If you don't tell them you're feeding their nasty electric grid you get a large fine. I prefer microgrids that send a line of LEDs across the house or that send Internet connections across a building.

Electronic disobedience therefore uses community mutual aid, a DIY spirit, and a basic love and respect for the environment around us, so that we can say we apply our common sense in any situation where we would normally pay an electric company within an autocratic state, for example. We are not moving to the hills tomorrow but can start saving or changing our habits today towards a more shared responsibility of it's use and generation.

Electric Disobedience, as a more generic disobedience to the use of commercial utilities, is a form of civil disobedience applied to an aspect of daily life, much like Economic Disobedience which has been a focus of the Catalan Integral Cooperative, or  and now is much more widespread.

An example of electronic disobedience
The first step of all is community autonomy. You need to have friends, neighbours, family and everyone around you helping to make this happen. People can help and want this kind of thing too! This lets us be able to lower the cost of electricity and our attachment to it more than anything else. Creating a community of people around you gets around a lot of the rules of modern business, and can also create a pleasurable or at least effective environment.. If you don't have people around you to share with, get to know a neighbour or two, maybe to propose a weekly electronic autonomy session so that you would actually enjoy for example putting a gas stove in use together to lower electricity prices and making shared meals there, or to somehow cohabit spaces, even if just by sharing cables and connections.

Community Connections
In an urban flat you can share an electric connection with one or more neighbours depending on the legal jurisdiction locally and on what is classified as a community or family unit. If this is even in part from a contracted commercial service and not self generated, and might therefore bring problems with the law, please don't blame me! But if you think that aspect is okay, the practical side is simple. Just send a cable out of a window or build it into the wall if you want it done nicely. It can also be done so that one gets more electricity than the other if one only needs a charging station and a light, and the other has a big buzzing electrically intensive family, or for whatever reasons you agreed. This allows you to account for each person's usage using an electric counter which can be found for 15€ on amazon, so hopefully in better places too. This can be for shared features such as lighting or networking but also for home use depending again on the legal side and how those issues can be minimised.

This electric counter would send a limited amount of wattage to this second household, but the main effect of a limit is that any device that has a motor or high wattage like a microwave or water heater would need coordination between neighbours to make sure this isn't being used by someone else at the same time. If the household consumes more than it's been given, the light will cut on the entire system and the original provider of electricity will have to reset their meter.

Around 10 households can use what is normally used by electric companies to power a single one. In spain it's possible to take out a specific contract for a staircase or shared account across a group. They all take on the challenge of reducing their consumption and lifestyle taking a little from the past and a little from newer ideas, but mostly from the ideas of people actually there. The problem is if they all use a resource at once. Setting up small circuits to stop the electricity coming back around can lessen the risk of consuming more than the connection allows for, but these need a workshop or someone to set them up. A community would be perfect because if they are for example heating a room and watching  a projection, it's best they do it together than apart. This is why a messaging group is convenient and simple to talk to neighbours about sharing this sparkly resource.

Chatting
The sharing spaces in question might be in a place where there isn't access to electricity outside of a common mutually maintained source like a solar rig or a contract, but if there is also no access to external internet, it's possible to share wifi and/or establish a LAN if there are lots of desktop computers or laptops, or a mobile based mesh network using briar,  murmur, servalmesh or other mesh apps. If you have a physical lan going a host of classic apps are available so you can do local installations of anything from rocket chat to forums. We are lucky in Spain/catalonia to have guifi.net which provides mesh based line of sight wifi many of which can be accessed to give cheap internet or at least access to a wider mesh.

Around the house
The main energy intensive things we do in a modern household are cooking, heating, cooling, washing clothes and washing ourselves. Did I forget any? With a small 40w camping fridge you can have a constantly cooled area in which to store milk, but can also make milk and drink it as it's made, each morning to last the day. This can be plausibly heated with solar photovoltaic(pv) for around 200€.

Cold storage areas like larders can also be made with large stones in cool dark places, as they tend to conserve their temperature well. Drinking condensed or nut/soya milk made a difference and if making these milks by hand only a cooker is used. There are thousands of ways of using all possible sources around us to heat or cool things..

The wonder of gas bottle use, at least in Spain is that it doesn't require you sign up to a company, although it is more dangerous to have around the house. It's also much cheaper. It's possible to have a fridge, hot water heater, room heater and cooker all running on gas, in one slightly explosive scenario. Sharing a fridge can go towards either a minimum of swapping used and cold gel blocks so that everyone can keep a cooler. In this way a single freezer can run fridges or coolers for more than 20 people at a time. This allows for cooled drinks or milk products. For vegetables it's better to learn to use them as they go off, unless buying in bulk. ts a learning process, to do in a group: tomatoes can store for a long time in the dark, for example, which is something easily available if you live without standard electricity.

Should we be using fossil based gas and commercial sources at all, even in this disobedient way? Of course not, but we have to transition so these are first steps.

Clothes Washing + Exercise
Clothes washing has been done with bicycles for the centrifuge effect and the drying, but in India, I learnt clothes are typically washed via bucket. By combining the human need for exercise with the need to wash and to wash clothes, a small amount of clothes can be put in a more or less 5l plastic container and filled with soapy water, and left to mix for a little while under the shower. When you have your shower you can (after washing your feet) stamp on the clothes until you literally squish and bash all the dirt out of them. You will remember what your toes are for. This can be followed by more careful washing at the sink but the stomping takes care of a lot of the work. If then drying clothes, as they tend to be more wet, their water can double up for watering plants if you have used an eco friendly toxin free washing liquid. If you reach this point, you'll be using greywater systems manually, without doing the whole permaculture design course!

Exercise comes twice: once when stamping on the clothes to your hearts content, and the other when wringing the water out of it. Why pay to go to a (electricity intensive) gym, after using mechanical devices to get out of doing any work in the first place? If it's about the company then get more people bucket washing, or even musical accompaniment and head towels - it can be the new style!

Lighting
For light, candles are a nice reusable lumen producing device (just pour it somewhere once it's melted and hang an oily string through it), as is LED lighting if you can get a tiny bit of light in. Candles are also a good source of heat - and a pan or metal cooking surface held above 4 tea lights for 5 minutes can toast bread, and I'm sure there is a way to make a candleholder that is both safe, mobile and has a way to use it to heat things too. Regardless of any future inventions, candles like gas sources are dangerous and a cause of fire when people leave them on and leave an area. Fabricating bases for candles that hold them up if knocked and that don't catch fire if they fall or run out will be very useful.

The basic source of light of course is sunlight, if you're lucky enough to have it directly arriving into your house. Falling asleep when it gets dark, and getting up when the light arrives is a more natural and probably a more healthy way of living. If you don't get any sunlight, it's possible to line up mirrors, like the ancient Egyptians are meant to have done with their pyramids, to reflect sunlight from elsewhere. By pointing just one mirror in from a window where the direct sunlight hits, it's possible to light a roof in an opposing room more than a 20w bulb. 

An interesting aside is that 4l PET plastic bottles both detoxify water if left in sunlight, and they diffuse sunlight so it's possible to have a light hit a bottle and then shine across the room with a dreamy sea effect: if you have a window that gets constant sunlight, keep a bottle of tap water there. If you can then cool it, you will also have much clearer water pure of any organic beasties from all the UV light. This procedure is used in Bolivia and is called SODIS: a Solar Disinfection process that removes bacteria and allows toxins to settle. By cooling you allow yet more minerals to settle. So a bottle can double as a light source and as tomorrow's sun-filtered water. Bottle lights themselves are based on re-using an easily available plastic bottle, but I can see that hacking these ideas could produce much more elaborate answers to piping light and heat to the right places in a house.

Solar
Solar PV is useful as well as all the lighting and clothes drying or plant growing/drying uses adds to solar water heating - also a cheap endeavour - mostly using recycled bottles and some tubes which could be done for a communal space or just to send back into a shower or few. The magic of that is the placing of the box with the cans painted black where the water is heated, and the tank where the water is stored(in Barcelona some old blocks of flats have communal water storage, although many places have had them removed to accommodate lifts.

By spending 20€ you can buy an automatic solar panel with a USB charger, but if you prefer to build this from scratch it's actually more expensive: I opted instead to spend 10 on a 12v battery, 20 on a 12v panel and another 10 on the circuits in between. This gives me a usb socket able to have a light on or charge a phone for about 6 hours, or run a small fan for about an hour. The difference is upgradeability and repair: I know what is happening there, if something breaks I think I could fix it, and I can double the power when I get some money for some upgrades or to add something in parallel.

So if you are feeling disobedient, please knock on your neighbour's door and if you think you can escape the clutches of the evil conglomerates that control today's fossil based energy sources, please help to improve this by amending or adding to it with new ideas or practices.

I hope I've shown a bit about what electric disobedience is about, and how to practice it within an urban space, but I'm totally open to comments and ideas that could shape this concept further and apply it to other areas.

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