Saturday, September 19, 2009


Power Shortages

People living in developed nations don’t have to worry too much — yet — about power shortages, but much of humanity suffers widespread power shortages on a daily basis. A recent article illustrating the seriousness of this matter is “RP facing looming power shortage,” about the grave shortage that the Philippines faces. Indeed, people fortunate to live in countries where power outages are infrequent events caused by things like electrical storms are largely ignorant that shortages are endemic across a broad swath of the globe from Africa through the Middle East (despite all their energy resources), Central Asia, South Asia, and Southeast Asia. Blackouts implemented on purpose due to insufficient power (sometimes called “load shedding”) are everyday occurrences to uncountable inhabitants of some countries, such as Pakistan.

Power shortages in developing countries are of course a serious constraint on economic activities and further development, not to mention the discomfort to people in hot countries when there’s no air conditioning. But the developed countries should not be too confident that it can’t happen to them. Dependence on networks linking data centers increases day by day, requiring more power for the new data centers that are constantly being built. And critical personal data (medical records, insurance policy information, student records, credit card information, and what have you) are now stored on server systems. If power to these systems is disrupted for some reason, or if the data centers themselves are damaged, data could become unavailable. The growth of “cloud computing” will make us further dependent on glitch-free networks and server systems, and on outage-free electric power. Can we count on that?

So you can see there’s no guarantee we’ll always have our data, or have access. Modern societies are putting all their eggs in one basket by digitizing everything and assuming that we’ll always have electricity, except for short, infrequent outages. Yet, the power shortages in developing countries are going to affect the whole world, and also show us what will very well happen in developed countries as our power requirements continue to rise and we struggle to fill them.

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