Cannabis, cables and keeping the lights on

By John Parnell

Energy firms don’t inspire sympathy in most people. However, theft could be one reason for consumers to feel a little empathy.

An electric lamp heated Cannabis farm in the UK. Operations like these steal £200m a year in electricity from the country's suppliers.(Source: West Midlands Police)

A conference in the UK yesterday said that cannabis farms (illegal in their own right of course), are also stealing £200m a year worth of energy for high powered heat lamps.

The rising price of metals has also put the theft of cables and other materials on the rise.

A quick scan of the British newspapers today shows 675 homes in Wales were left without power when cable thieves cut through their supply, two men were jailed for stripping an electricity sub-station and two more were arrested for stealing cable from Northern Ireland Electricity.

It is in the developing world however, where theft has a more severe impact on communities and even nations at large.

In India, it is estimated that around 30% of the country’s supply is siphoned away from the utility firms. Some estimates put this figure at 50%.

In Latin America the practice is rife too with a fifth of Brazil’s electricity stolen.

In both instances there are large numbers of people tying cables to the main supply line – an inherently dangerous procedure – in order to steal fairly modest quantities of power.

The problem in India is made all the more severe by industrial and commercial operations that are amplifying the problem. In a country where 400 million people are without electricity, the demand for power is set to double by 2020 and there is already a power deficit, these thefts are unforgivable.

Utilities get smart

In both Brazil and India, utilities are turning to smart meters.

The Times of India spoke with the head of a regional electricity provider that has attached smart meters to its sub stations and distributed them among consumers. When demand exceeds the usage by its genuine customers, the discrepancy can be attributed to theft with the locality of that sub station.

The Rio+20 Summit this June has integrated the UN Sustainable Energy for All initiative into its objectives.

The beneficiaries of stolen electricity may find it economically sustainable but the result is that the grid struggles to support the demand leaving all in the dark. So far, when governments in the developing world are struggling to meet demand, the answer is invariably coal. This is bad news for anyone hoping to limit climate change to 2°C of warming.

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