Friday, June 18, 2010


World’s Strained Power Grids

Amigos, the infinite growth paradigm is finding itself challenged on all fronts: The global financial system is in tatters, which is starting to drag us toward commercial collapse... and farther down. Another aspect of this is the mounting pressure on the world’s electric grids. More people, more heat, more air conditioners, and of course more TVs to watch the World Cup, are threatening to bring down grids. There is Beirut, where people are preparing for 12-hour power outages, and apparently in South Africa — which has suffered power shortages for quite some time now — some areas are left without power to keep the World Cup venues well-supplied. Interestingly, we don’t expect the energy-rich Middle Eastern countries to have such problems, but in fact with summer temperatures building, GCC states are laboring under critical power shortages. Check out these stories about Saudi Arabia and Kuwait, for instance. When Americans hear reports like this, they tend to smugly think that such things only happen in other countries, but this year again Louisiana faces the danger of blackouts.

With the costs of energy and construction materials much higher than when much of this infrastructure was built, it’s no easy matter to build more power plants and expand grids. And renewables cannot realistically be expected to take up much of the slack.

In fact, we should not have high expectations for expanding electricity infrastructure. Take the example of another vital part of our industrial infrastructure, the roads and bridges of our transportation system. Even a cursory inspection of news items relating to roads and bridges is enough to see that many developed countries are already falling behind in maintenance. The main reason is that much of this infrastructure was built with much cheaper energy. If a road system was built with oil costing $10 or $20 a barrel, you can’t expect to rebuild it with oil costing $70 or $80 a barrel. The same goes for grids and everything else. Electricity demand is already outstripping supply, and it’s just a matter of time until massive grid failures and widespread blackouts. Stock up on candles now.

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