One thing we have learnt this week – blackouts set to become more common

DSCF1114_optThis week two academics have warned we can not necessarily rely on a future without blackouts.  They warn resource scarcity including peak oil, the rising dependency on electricity and more controversially renewables will make blackouts more likely.

The paper by Hugh Byrd, Professor of Architecture at the University of Lincoln, UK, and Steve Matthewman, Associate Professor of Sociology at the University of Auckland, New Zealand is rather sociological and rather irritatingly the authors seem unable to use scientific notation instead using large strings of zeros.  I also disagree with the point about renewable energy.  The Centre for Alternative Technology (CAT) have suggested that running on energy system on 100% renewables is completely possible.  This is not to say there could not be problems, ironically many of these problems are what to do when their is excess power rather when their is too little.  (As we have described in Germany.)  Byrd and Matthewman use the example of developing countries running out of hydro-power due to drought.  They could also have added California to that list, the blackouts were not just due to Enron but also lack of hydro-power due to low rainfall.  The problem with these examples are that no one is suggesting using just one type of renewables.  CAT have done detailed analysis that suggest you can balance demand using different types of technologies.  The authors also make a possible mistake seeming to suggest that renewables cannot meet the USA’s air conditioning needs.  I am unsure from the wording whether they mean now (true) or in the future (probably false, although it obviously depends on the growth in use of air con).  Byrd and Matthewman look at some of the consequences of blackouts such as economic costs, transport disruption and crime.

The authors warn that blackouts may become more frequent as electricity demand continues to grow.  Its certainly true that if we electrify heating and transport our need and dependency on electricity will grow.  We need to cut our current demand for energy drastically, something our book suggests how to start doing.  Despite some minor errors this paper is a useful warning going forward.

Neil

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