Monday, July 19, 2010

All That Gas: Butane in Mallorca

The "butanero" delivered the other day. He does so only infrequently in summer, as there is only limited demand for gas. It was red hot, around two in the afternoon. How was he? "Bad," he replied, with a laugh. Well, you try driving a butane-gas truck around in the heat, getting in and out of the cab, lugging a heavy bottle onto the kerb. Just shifting one bottle will induce a sweat, and he's doing this time and time again.

One of these days, the butanero may well be no more, as there will be no more the chaps who try and come and check gas installations and who are always frauds. The butanero and butane may still rule the energy roost, but natural gas has now arrived (in Palma at any rate), and oil, solar and (expensive) straightforward mains supply electricity are alternatives. The demand for butane has been falling. A report from "The Diario" yesterday stated that sales have fallen by 20% since 2005. Even the cold winter past saw only a slight increase in sales over the norm.

Nevertheless, Mallorca and the Balearics form one of the most significant markets for butane in Spain. Demand may have fallen, but it is high compared with other regions, a reason being that, despite what can sometimes be very cold spells during the winter, the climate is such that it doesn't justify the costs of installing other systems of heating. The cost, though, of the gas itself has generally risen over the past decade. It does sometimes go down, but at a current price of 12.50 euros it is at least a third more expensive than it was seven or eight years ago. Only when you go into the inner sanctums of some larger restaurants and see the lines of bottles hooked up, do you begin to appreciate how much the whole economy and not just homes rely on a mode of energy supply that seems ridiculously outdated.

"The Diario" also spoke to one of the chaps who attends the butane collection points. He's been doing it for 15 years. Like the chap in Puerto Alcúdia, he is well known in his local community in Palma. Everyone knows the butane man, and he knows everyone and the inside of their car boots or the backs of their vans. For anyone who doesn't know him, he resides, together with his truck of orangey-red bottles, on a road near to the commercial port. In summer he is quiet, but in winter he can attend to whole lines of cars which have to turn around on a road unsuited for such a manoeuvre in order to park up by the truck.

Butane supply is a relic, as is the method of distribution. For all the sophistication of Mallorca, an important part of its energy provision is via something that most Brits will only ever encounter if they go camping. One day it will surely cease to be, but there is something satisfyingly old-fashioned in having such community figures as the butane delivery man and the chap at his collection point.

Any comments to please.

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