[Irony alert; avoid reading if allergic.]
It is amusing to see — from the vantage point of the world’s number one economy, soon-to-be-number-one oil-and-gas producer, number one military power and just all around exceptional nation — the rest of the world struggling to keep the lights on. The poor beggars don’t seem to have the capacity to understand what it takes to run large enterprises and be Number One. Examples abound:
On January 25, virtually the entire country of Pakistan lost electricity after its grid failed when a transmission line short-circuited. Pakistan’s grid is so dilapidated and its power supply so short of meeting demand that blackouts of 10 hours a day in the major cities and 20 hours daily in rural areas are routine. But the government (elected nearly two years ago on promises to fix the situation) swears that the grid collapse was the result of an attack by militants.
A punishing drought in Brazil has cut that country’s hydroelectric generation so much that rolling blackouts and days-long suspension of Internet availability are affecting much of the world’s seventh-largest economy. In the second year of an historic drought, the country is firing up fossil-fuel generators and importing power from Argentina in an attempt to keep air conditioners running in the searing summer heat. Even more seriously, water is being rationed in 93 cities as reservoirs dry up. The need for upgraded infrastructure, including the grid, has been debated without result in Brazil for decades. Its Science Minister, Aldo Rebelo, is a climate-change denier.
South Africa’s electric utility is cutting power for four hours at at a time in rolling blackouts across the country that it hopes will avert a national grid failure. The company says the blackouts are likely to continue at least until April, and maybe for years. For 20 years (since the first democratic elections — you know, morning in South Africa) the government has extended electric service to seven million more people without appropriating money for more generating capacity, or enough money to maintain the generators in service. Now, to everyone’s apparent surprise, the lights are going out.
How widespread is this problem, and how insulated are we from it? Good question.
In a story published last summer and widely ignored, International Business Times cited US Government data to reveal that the country that suffers more electrical blackouts than any other developed nation is — the United States. Blackouts of an hour or more have been steadily increasing for 10 years, as has demand for electricity, despite investments in renewables and “smart” grid devices. Americans lose power 285 per cent more often than they did in 1985, the first year these statistics were recorded. And where a resident of Japan can expect to lose power for an average of four minutes a year, a resident of the American Upper Midwest will have lights out for an annual average of 214 minutes.
The causes are well known and documented: a refusal by government and industry to spend what is required to maintain and replace aging, deteriorating equipment and satisfy steadily increasing demand; and increased damage from larger and more frequent storms because of climate change.
So do your worst, Pakistan and Brazil and South Africa and all the rest. America is still Number One.