Energy is a basic human need and is one of the greatest blessings bestowed on humanity. Humans have come a long way from discovering fire to harnessing various energy resources and to developing power guzzler equipment. While energy sources have grown at an exponential pace balancing out the demand, this time around, certain factors have led to the brewing up of an unprecedented power crisis across countries. We’ll learn more about this going ahead.
The power crisis that has enveloped large parts of the world is a result of the surge in demand from countries recovering from post-pandemic, imperfect transition to green energy and climate change. These factors are resulting in the soaring cost of energy with supplies not matching demand levels.
In 2020, pandemic-induced lockdowns brought economies to a standstill, with no factories, no business, no international transport, everything quiet. This led to a fall in demand for power. This year as vaccines came by, economies began rapid recovery, and the power demand shot up. Let’s check out how the situation is turning up around the world.
The Indian economy picking up after the 2nd wave of Covid-19 has led to escalated demand from industries. In the last two months, power consumption jumped by 17%, causing shortages.
Coal accounts for about 70% of electricity production in India, out of which 3/4th is domestic output. The country is facing a coal crunch as power plants run with critically low stocks. The coal shortage has been a result of the inability of domestic producers to make up for the rise in demand, extended monsoons that delayed dispatches, and the difficulties in importing as international coal prices hit a record high. A reluctance to raise prices for consumers has left power plants with little incentive to raise production.
Other than coal, domestic natural gas prices have also increased in tandem with international prices. For now, increasing coal production, rationing coal supplies to non-power sectors, and utilizing fuller dams for power generation look to be India’s best bets to tackle the crisis.
In Europe, power demands have surged because the economy is rallying up strong recovery from the pandemic. Another driving force expanding power demand is the apprehension of severe weather conditions due to the climatic phenomenon La Lina - usually associated with cooler winters.
The European Union had made progressive steps towards the transition to green energy in the past. But, renewable sources have unreliable systems and lack storage to backup electricity grids. The disappearance of winds in the northern sea and low water levels at Norway’s reservoirs have aggravated the crisis as renewable sources have failed to meet power requirements.
Europe has been increasingly reliant on Russia for natural gas. Over the years, owing to the shift to green energy, natural gas production has fallen in Europe. While, Russia says that it is only going to ramp gas production gradually, and also it has to fill in dwindling domestic reserves before winter. Such shortages are propelling energy costs to skyrocketing heights, as Europe finds it difficult to match ends.
EU policies focus on going forward with renewable energy, but the fact that such sources haven’t stabilized yet has created rumblings in the quiet lake. It would be interesting if Europe falls back on fossil fuels to ensure energy security, compromising carbon emissions which seem highly unlikely.
China is under the grip of an acute power crisis as manufacturing demand intensifies with the global economy bouncing back. China doesn’t have enough coal to run its power generators, a condition aggravated due to an unofficial ban on the import of Australian coal.
As coal prices rose, the government imposed controls on electricity prices, this discouraged power plants to operate at a loss, forcing them to reduce output. This situation has led to blackouts of varying intensity in at least 20 provinces across China, and houses and businesses have suffered.
The government’s long-term plans to cut emissions and reduce the energy consumed by heavy factories have led to factories shutting down. The power crisis is bound to inflict a big hit on the economy because the production sector that steered growth during the pandemic is taking a toil now. China needs to expand its domestic coal output and procurement channels to deal with the crisis.
South America is in the middle of a water crisis. About 65% of the continent’s power comes from hydroelectricity produced by mega-dams, but presently, they are hit with historic droughts.
Currently relying on natural gas, coal, and fuels to make up for the deficiencies in energy requirements, the continent wishes for plentiful rains. The nations are finding it financially tough to procure fossil fuels. As a result, inflation has struck the continent affecting populations.
The United Kingdom is experiencing a power crisis due to reduced wind energy output caused by a wind drought. The UK is faced with increasing global natural gas costs. Here, the transition away from reliable nuclear energy and domestic production has messed up energy availability.
The UK is also encountering issues such as a shortage of truckers due to a botched-up Brexit. The rapidly increasing energy costs have led to an astronomical rise in the cost of manufacturing. Additionally, the price caps set by the government require firms to sell power at lower rates than the procurement rate, resulting in companies failing.
So what does this sequence of events teach?
We now know that the earth is changing for sure and, the phenomenon of climate change is very much true. The phasing out of fossil fuels and transition to green energy is essential to save the planet from devastation. The world is taking steady steps in the right direction. The economy is at an inflection point and is taking a leap from fossil fuels to green energy.
But what we have learned from this crisis is that venturing into the unknown without proper planning is risky. This is regarding the fact that renewable power systems are still unreliable and are subject to climatic conditions. Going ahead, investment in multiple power sources - a mix of coal and green energy would be ideal. In the long run, climate change commitments would play a massive role in promoting cleaner energy resources, but fossil fuels are here to stay for some more time.