Study Predicts More Frequent And Severe Blackouts In The Coming Years
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Brett Smith for redOrbit.com – Your Universe Online
A new assessment from a British and New Zealand research team has concluded that the worldwide electrical grid will suffer more frequent and significant outages if current trends continue.
In their report, which was published in the Social Space Scientific Journal, the two authors noted that nearly three quarters of American transmission lines are more than 25 years old.
“Infrastructural investment across Europe and the USA has been poor, and our power generation systems are more fragile than most people think,” said co-author Steve Matthewman, an associate professor of sociology at the University of Auckland in New Zealand. “The vulnerability of our electricity systems is highlighted by one particular blackout which took place in Italy in 2003, when the whole nation was left without power because of two fallen trees. This reality is particularly alarming when you consider the world’s increasing dependency on electricity.”
“Electricity fuels our existence. It powers water purification, waste, food, transportation and communication systems. Modern social life is impossible to imagine without it, and whereas cities of the past relied on man-power, today we are almost completely reliant on a series of interlocking technical systems,” said co-author Hugh Byrd, a professor of architecture at the University of Lincoln in the United Kingdom. “Our research therefore explores what happens when the power goes off, and explains why the security of fuel supply is such a pressing social problem.”
According to the report authors, resource constraints, such as depleting fossil fuel reserves and the ephemeral nature of renewable energy, are threatening the Western world’s presumptions about guaranteed electrical power.
While many blackouts occur as a result of system breakdowns, the scientists show that network breakdown resulting from inadequate energy is also a growing concern. The study said American household electrical power usage is up by 1,300 percent from 1940 to 2001. The authors also predicted a higher demand for electric vehicles and air conditioning systems in the future.
In the last few decades, air conditioning has been the biggest factor in elevated electrical consumption and one of the greatest sources of systemic burden, with significantly more blackouts occurring in the summer months than during the winter. The electricity used to fuel American air conditioning is currently at a similar volume to its total energy consumption in the 1950s, and countries such as China and India are carrying out a similar evolution.
“It is estimated that energy demand for air conditioning in 2100 will be 40 times greater than it was in 2000, and alongside this, there is also an ever-increasing market for electric vehicles. Western societies therefore face a significant social problem,” Byrd said. “They are becoming ever more dependent upon electrical power yet supply will struggle to meet demand, especially if you consider the current rate of population growth and the continuing sophistication and prevalence of electrical appliances in our homes, work places and social environments.”
“Research shows that in America power outages cause annual losses of up to $180 billion, but economic cost is not the only concern,” he added. “We should also consider issues of food safety, increased crime rates, transport problems and the environmental cost of diesel generators; which are all matters that come to the fore during a blackout.”
“Our research aims to show how important it is to consider these issues, as our increasing demands continue to place additional strains on already struggling systems of generation,” Byrd concluded.