I love reading smug editorials about the problems in other countries. India certainly has its problems. It sounds like they have a corrupt dysfuctional government that allocates their resources foolishly. I’m sure glad I don’t live in a country like that. Their electrical power grid is ancient and overloaded. I’m sure glad my country has a modern efficient electrical grid. Surely a one hour thunderstorm couldn’t knock out power to hundreds of thousands for weeks. Surely an ice storm couldn’t knock out power to thousands for a month. It seems the people of India and the businesses of India know not to trust the government and provide their own backup power generation for when the government fails them.
Here in the U.S. the clueless masses are prepared for nothing. Three days without power and people would be dying, rioting and begging for their government to save them. Anyone who thinks our electrical grid and underground water infrastructure isn’t crumbling and on the verge of collapse is living in a fantasy world. Three water main pipes have broken in Phila in the last two weeks creating enormous sinkholes and flooding hundreds of homes. The costs will be in the millions. Government has failed again. They spent your tax dollars on useless welfare and warfare, while our infrastructure deteriorated and now crumbles before our very eyes. And guess what. There is no money left to invest. It’s gone.
So don’t be so smug when reading about the problems of other countries. We have a few.
India sets back-to-back blackout records
Wednesday, August 1,2012
India is more and more often being held up to us as a nation that has embraced the computer age and run with it. At least that’s what the outfits that outsource jobs to Bangalore tell us.
But the next time you’re talking to “Chad” or “Ashley” on the help desk, that IT person may be working his laptop by candlelight and praying that the battery holds out until your problem is solved or his shift ends.
On Tuesday, India experienced the largest power outage in the history of electricity when 670 million, nearly one of every 10 people in the world, was suddenly blacked out.
The second greatest blackout was Monday when 300 million people, one-fourth of the country, were left in the dark. More than 500 trains abruptly came to a halt, and there was massive gridlock when the traffic lights quit working.
Indian drivers, who are said to take an unstructured approach to driving, might have said, “Traffic lights? We have traffic lights?”
One-fourth of the country, 300 million, missed the blackout altogether because they don’t have electricity in the first place.
Chandrajit Banerjee, director general of the Confederation of Indian Industry, was quoted as saying, “The developments of yesterday and today have created a huge dent in the country’s reputation that is most unfortunate.”
“Dent?” Crater would be more like it. The Washington Post observed, “Along with a lack of investment in infrastructure, the crisis also had roots in many of India’s familiar failings: the populist tone of much of its politics, rampant corruption in its government and public sector, weak law enforcement, and a maze of regulations that restrict many industries.”
One of them is a limit on mining India’s abundant reserves of coal, leaving many coal-fired generating plants chronically short of fuel.
News accounts say populist politicians force the power companies to sell power to favored customers at less than the cost of producing it, and then farmers, who get free power for irrigation, turn around and sell the electricity to local factories.
Meanwhile, somewhere between 24 percent and 40 percent of the power is lost in transmission because of inefficiency and theft.
Various explanations for the outage were offered. The most common was that the individual Indian states, in violation of the laws and regulations, simultaneously began drawing more than their share of power from the grid.
My favorite, if only for its beguiling honesty, was an official in the New Delhi power department, who said, “We are absolutely clueless why this happened again today.”
The blackouts would seem to call for a major increase in generating capacity but one that the government seems incapable of providing. India’s great rival as an emerging power is China, but, as The Wall Street Journal noted, “In recent years, China has added six times more power than India to its grid annually.”
It’s probably not the source of the problem but it’s worth noting that as the lights were going out all over northern India, the power minister was being promoted to the much more important post of home affairs minister.
We might point out that the worst blackout in the United States, 50 million people in the Northeast, happened when a couple of untrimmed trees brushed against some power lines in Ohio. And regularly in the national capital trees fall on the power lines and tens of thousands of people are left without power for days.
We here in the United States have mastered the art of a steady power supply. It’s the trees that stump us.
Dale McFeatters is a columnist for Scripps Howard News Service.