India Power Outage: The Shape of Things to Come?
"So far as I am able to judge, nothing has been left undone, either by man or nature, to make India the most extraordinary country that the sun visits on his rounds. Nothing seems to have been forgotten, nothing overlooked."
Mark Twain, Following the Equator.
The enormous power cut recently seen in India, which affected perhaps 700 million people, serves to highlight the degree of the structural dependency we have built into our lives in the era of cheap energy.
Electricity is one of the most complex manifestations of our complex system and has come to be widely seen as a basic necessity. It enables many of our modern life support systems. Expectations have been raised, even in many of the slums of the world, that electricity will be available, at least some of the time. The lack of it, especially if that lack is sudden and unexpected, or prolonged, increasingly leads to social unrest.
It is instructive to contrast the extent of the dependency on electricity, and the expectations that surround it, in developing and developed economies. The way a blackout plays out in a place like India is quite different than a similar outage would be in a place where power supplies are far more reliable. The primary difference is one of resilience.