Discover more from Learning by Proxy with Vivek Srinivasan
The curse of powerlessness
So much of what we do today is done by machines and those machines need electricity. An amalgam of circumstances has given a gut punch to energy security across the world.
Growing up in India, shortages were normal. We did not have enough milk, not enough water, not enough medicines and on and on. India always had a shortage of electricity and several hours of power cuts were normal. Even today, power cuts are normal. They rarely last hours unless there is a huge breakdown in infrastructure such as a transformer blowout.
India had an interesting way of dealing with power shortages. During the day, the power authorities would cut out the power to residential areas and power the offices and factories and vice versa at night. They used to put out schedules for this activity and called it Load Shedding.
The climate conditions around the world combined with the self-inflicted geopolitical strife are going to make this term common in the lexicon of several countries.
In Bangladesh, they are prioritising industry over education.
Bangladesh will close schools for one extra day a week and cut office timings by an hour to save power, a government official said on Monday, as the country battles a shortage after shutting down all of its diesel-run power plants.
The South Asian country last month shut down all 10 of its diesel power plants after Russia's invasion of Ukraine drove up the cost of imported fuel. Bangladesh began daily two-hour power cuts last month, but many parts of the country go without electricity for much longer.
Further north, China has seen unprecedented drought conditions. This has left the country with not enough water to run their hydel power plants. They are being forced to cut power.
China is scrambling to alleviate power shortages and bring more water to the drought-hit basin of the Yangtze river as it battles a record-breaking heatwave by deploying relief funds, seeding clouds and developing new sources of supply.
On Wednesday, China's southwestern province of Sichuan said it would ration power supplies to homes, offices and shopping malls, after having already ordered energy-intensive metals and fertiliser producers to curb operations.
Fountains, light shows and commercial activities after dark are to be suspended, it added.
Power shortages have also prompted several companies in the sprawling Chongqing region bordering Sichuan to say they would suspend production.
The state of California has also been a beneficiary of several years of drought. The heat is causing people to increase their consumption of energy.
As Californians crank up the air conditioning during a heat wave, state officials are urging consumers to limit their electricity use to avoid strain on the power grid – and the potential for rolling blackouts.
A California grid operator issued a power grid emergency alert on Monday and renewed calls for people to find ways to conserve electricity use this week during afternoons and evenings to prevent outages. California Independent System Operator, better known as Caiso, provides energy to about 80% of the state.
Moving over to Europe
You may have heard of how the hunter became the hunted. In the case of Russia, the sanctioners seem to have turned into the sanctioned! The assumption was that Europe is the only viable purchaser of Russian gas, that assumption was wrong. And now…
The UK is planning for several days over the winter when cold weather may combine with gas shortages, leading to organized blackouts for industry and even households.
Under the government’s latest “reasonable worst-case scenario,” Britain could face an electricity capacity shortfall totaling about a sixth of peak demand, even after emergency coal plants have been fired up, according to people familiar with the government’s planning. Under that outlook, below-average temperatures and reduced electricity imports from Norway and France could expose four days in January when the UK may need to trigger emergency measures to conserve gas, they said.
But the worst hit would be Germany without a doubt. They decommissioned their nuclear power plants to move toward gas. German dependence on Russian gas is the greatest of all European nations.
Next winter will be the first without Russian gas, or at least without as much as Germany was used to getting to feed its powerful industrial sector and heat the homes of many of its 83 million residents. And that means a possible rationing for which the government of Olaf Scholz, a Social Democrat, is already preparing the population. For now the measures are preventive: it is about saving as much as possible in case there is a difficult winter ahead not only due to shortages, but also due to the drastic rise in fuel prices. A ubiquitous government campaign has been encouraging people to take shorter, colder showers to try to achieve a collective consumption saving of 10% compared to previous summers.
Warnings about what may come in winter are gaining ground in public discourse. A few days ago, Jens Kerstan, head of the environment department in Hamburg, said that the gas crisis – in the context of the confrontation with Moscow over the war in Ukraine – could lead to rationing of hot water in homes. In case of an emergency, he told the newspaper Welt am Sonntag, hot water availability would have to be limited to certain hours of the day. The politician also noted that the city-state is considering lowering the maximum temperature of private heating.
Source: El Pais
With skyrocketing gas prices and electricity costs, people are moving back to the Neolithic age.
Skyrocketing prices for natural gas have Europeans scrambling for alternative energy sources. In Germany, where households face a 480 euro rise in their gas bills, people are resorting to stockpiling firewood.
So much for Carbon neutrality. Moving further west.
As winter approaches, the outlook in France is increasingly dire. Electricite de France SA, the state-owned utility, is running only 26 of its 57 reactors, with more than half of its chain undergoing emergency maintenance after the discovery of cracked pipes. With atomic reactors generating the lowest share of the country’s power in 30 years, France faces an electricity ‘Waterloo.’
The slump in nuclear availability is forcing France to rely more than ever on gas-fired plants, intermittent wind and hydro as well as imports. That’s pushing up the cost of electricity in the wholesale market for the whole of Europe, with French forward prices surging to almost 1,000% more than their decade-long average through 2020.
In the middle of the summer, when French electricity demand hovers around 45 gigawatts per hour, that’s not an insurmountable problem. But on a cold winter evening, when French households can push consumption above 80 or 90 gigawatts, it could be catastrophically expensive.
The resulting price surge is spectacular. It has gone from 50 Euros/MWH to 900 Euros/MWH and winter prices are already trading at 1500 Euros/MWH.
This is real crypto. You wish you had bought futures contracts don’t you?
Even Switzerland won’t be spared
Switzerland could resort to rolling four-hour regional blackouts should Europe's energy crisis lead to winter power shortages, a senior utility sector official said on Wednesday.
The country is bracing for shortages of power and gas due to the war in Ukraine, possible interruptions in gas supplies, and the situation at nuclear power plants in France, although energy supplies were secure for now, officials said.
As Europe and Europeans feel powerless, the spectre of strife is very real. When people are left to struggle through the winter cold, questions are bound to arise.
Frans Timmermans, the second most senior official in the EU, said the threat of unrest this winter, a deliberate outcome of Vladimir Putin’s invasion of Ukraine, must take precedence over the climate crisis.
He said: “If our society descends into very, very strong conflict and strife because there is no energy, we’re certainly not going to make our [climate] goals. We’re certainly not going to get where we need to get if the lack of energy leads to strong disruption in our societies, and we need to make sure people are not in the cold in the coming winter.
But Mr Timmermans is wrong. This is the opportunity to ask real questions about the nature of energy in use. It is an opportunity to prepare for the future. Instead, he is suggesting going back to coal. Somehow in his convoluted reasoning, that is the path toward reaching climate goals.
Either way, as the power shortages are dealt with, several questions will be asked. Some will question the breathless reporting of the New York Times all summer claiming that the Russians were being beaten back. The decisions made about where to source power would be questioned. The decision to get into bed with Russia for all energy needs will be questioned and the decision to get into bed with the US against Russia will also be questioned.
Suffering is fertile territory for surfacing the right questions.
This winter will be interesting to watch.