Just because we have never had an extended power failure, it does not mean we will not have such a scenario in the future.
BHPian SmartCat recently shared this with other enthusiasts.
I think we are going all-electric without fully considering the risks of doing so:
- Currently, 75% to 90% of train tracks in our country are electrified. Within a year or two, our tracks will be 100% electrified.
- Metro trains in our cities are obviously electric.
- All major cities are planning to add electric buses to their fleet. A few years down the line, it is very likely that many cities will have an all-electric fleet.
- In the future, Ola/Uber taxis/autorickshaws and last-mile delivery commercial vehicles could go all-electric too. Intercity trucks/buses too might go all-electric.
- Some households already have only EVs (e.g.: electric cars and electric scooters). In the future, as EV technology matures, we will see longer range and lower costs. All EV households are likely to increase slowly over time.
No, this article will NOT be about how we are using coal-powered plant technology imports from China or all the battery pollution we might cause. This is about the risk of a single point of failure – that is, if the electric grid goes down for an extended period of time, it also takes down transport with it. And in the future, if commercial vehicles go all-electric, groceries and vegetable shops will be empty if the grid goes down. Basically, our entire country will grind to a halt.
THE BLACK SWAN RISK:
The problem is we are all used to 1 or 2-hour power cuts, that too, in small localized areas. If an entire city loses power even for 6 or 8 hours, it makes it to headlines. If a country loses power for 24 hours (like what happened to Pakistan this year), it makes international headlines.
But what will happen if we lose power for 3 days? Or a week? Or even more? The most obvious answer to that is that it will never happen. Technicians will fix the problem, come what may. After all, we are so used to seeing this happen all over the world. The reasoning is that such an apocalyptic scenario will not happen.
Now we all know that all Swans are white:
But just because we have not seen a black coloured swan, it does not mean that they do not exist. It’s just that we have not seen them in our lives.
Similarly, just because we have never had an extended power failure, it does not mean we will not have such a scenario in the future.
That is the basis of the Black Swan Theory of managing risks.
The risk of extended power failure is not such a crazy thought either. Here is the list of major power failures in the world:
- Brazil had major blackouts and power issues for 3 months at a stretch in 1999
- Paraguay had similar issues for 10 days in 2009
- Entire Pakistan had power outage for 24 hours in 2023
And no, this is not a ‘developing country’ problem. Some areas in Texas lost power for 3 days!
INDIA SPECIFIC EXTENDED POWER OUTAGE RISKS:
Along with weather & technical issues we might face in the future, our country faces the risk of extended blackouts because of enemy action (China, not Pakistan).
1) Management of power infrastructure is driven by software connected to the internet. However, the entire system can be hacked into and controlled via Malware. The power outage that happened in Mumbai during the Galwan crisis is suspected to be a cyber attack from China. NYTimes article:
China Appears to Warn India: Push Too Hard and the Lights Could Go Out
2) India also faces the risk of cruise/ballistic missile attacks on power infrastructure. Like how Russia tried to take out Ukraine’s power infrastructure with missiles in the ongoing Ukraine-Russia war. When it comes to missiles, China has a 10x larger inventory and manufacturing capability than Russia. It is the only country in the world to have a separate division for missiles called PLA Rocket Force. Meaning, that while everybody has the Army/Navy/AirForce, the Chinese have the Army/Navy/Air Force/Missile Force.
Sure, India is much more massive than Ukraine. And India’s power plants are spread all over the country. But still, the power distribution network is interconnected (this helps in sending power from surplus to deficit states). Persistent blows to certain previously identified important targets (e.g.: major grid electric sub-station) could take out power over a large area (this is called cascading failure).
Here’s what BHPian SKC-auto had to say on the matter:
In a scenario where there will be 3 days of power cut, where will we get petrol and diesel? 3 days of power cut will be a total disaster even with EVs or ICE.
Oil refineries are an easy target than targeting solar panels and windmills, it would be a crazy idea if PLA wanted to bomb solar panels in a desert rather than target 28 (IIRC) oil refinery infrastructure. The reason every country builds strategic oil reserves, one was said to be built by digging a huge mountain cavern near our home and near Eastern Naval Command HQ in Vizag, This place also has a huge HPCL refinery.
I have childhood memories of running for life when this HPCL refinery plant blasted multiple times during an accident. There was acidic rain, and people with infants too got drenched in this rain, running for life.
Future EV developments (already Tesla has the latest update) will allow me to directly charge the car from the solar panels, and let the PLA bomb every house, similarly, V2L and V2G EVs will support people in such outages. We have already seen EVs helping people in Texas cold.
Let’s build more solar and Wind and see what PLA can do. Saudi Arabia and Aramco were easy targets even for small-time rebels, the real swan is ICE infra.
Here’s what BHPian ferrarirules had to say on the matter:
Why is this a concern when everything is being electrified?? When all trains moved from steam to fossil fuel or all cars moved from steam/hand drawn/animal drawn to fossil fuel or building heating moved from wood fire-based heating to gas-based heating or when all communication went from landline to mobile phones or many more such examples, this was never a concern.
The inevitability of a black swan event is in every scenario. For Example – A war in Ukraine broke out the whole of Europe was under gas shortage due to the Russian supply issue, and many wars have caused oil prices to skyrocket. A riot situation in a state blocks all internet resulting in a complete failure of all digital implementation, a ship runs aground in a canal blocking a majority of the world trade and a country gets less rainfall and cannot fill the canal impacting world trade.
How is all of the above any different from everything being electrified? In the end, necessity is the mother of all inventions. We as humans always adapt to the challenges thrown at us. Who says the world will stop at electrification and not think about grid redundancy or other alternatives which are equally green or carbon-neutral
In the IT industry, when we do fringe or edge testing of critical code does it make the failure proof – NO. Example – Boeing implemented software on 737 Max which tested and approved for commercial use. However, a condition in the code/flight scenario led to a loss of lives and the grounding of the fleet for more than a year.
And if all the implemented safeguards fail then be it electricity, fuel supply chain, food supply chain, pharmaceutical supply chain or anything else. The impact is going to be the same.
Check out BHPian comments for more insights and information.
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