Imagine the grid did not exist. Imagine we had somehow segued from the era of candles and coal fires to one that featured home generators, gas canisters, solar power and fuel cells. Imagine if, in this rainy country, we all gathered our own water or at least most of us did. How would life be different? Would we be less happy? Don’t get me wrong, I’m not talking about returning to a time before electricity and gas and clean, safe drinking water; I am just asking whether power and water has to be delivered via a grid or whether there is another way. I am not harking back to the pre-grid days as some kind of utopia; I simply want to try to define what we lost when we gained the grid. We still hear the occasional story about a remote village that used to have to provide its own power but is now at last connected. I have filmed in such places myself. As the villagers blink into the cameras, and the electric power arrives, their own power is sapped away. Now there is a move in the opposite direction. Whole new villages are being planned off-grid.
It’s time to question our assumptions about the naturalness of the grid. It’s convenient, sure. We enter the room, flip the switch, and the light goes on. But we don’t need the grid for that. Do we really need it at all?