Title: A Question of Power (Electricity and the Power of Nations)
Author: Robert Bryce
Have you heard someone say ”you never really understand the worth of something until it’s gone”?
Now let’s include Maslow’s hierarchy of (five) needs, which are 1) Physiological, 2) Safety, 3) Love and Belonging, 4) Esteem and 5) Self-actualization. It is structured from the most necessary needs that we need in order to survive, and then moves up to those needs where we feel we belong, and belong and feel we contribute to something great. (https://www.bing.com/images/search?view=detailV2&ccid=EEZWqpIV&id=A200364509DC46A897FA7F01E723C1B983C6956E&thid=OIP.EEZWqpIVQdq6MFAlREGNIgHaFu&mediaurl=http%3a%2f%2f3.bp.blogspot.com%2f-AmB0cO6ik6w%2fVpJCAm0oSdI%2fAAAAAAAOljA%2fUMNs94-7nIk%2fs1600%2fMaslows-Hierarchy-of-Needs-730816.jpg&exph=1159&expw=1500&q=the+hierarchy+of+needs+maslow&simid=608027507755388499&ck=BC5C6E098E5ADD47F56C3DF921082B9E&selectedIndex=3&ajaxhist=0)
Now let’s take those two together and consider how important has electricity become to us personally, and also to living a life in the modern economy.
It becomes quite apparent that it has become an existential element of the twenty-first century. Not only because of all the machinery that can be empowered by it (which in turn can be used to complete endless number of tasks for us), but also where we could be heading towards as we make it part of our lives more and more every day.
The book goes into different topics on how electricity was a significant contributor to help grow the economy, and how some other countries lag behind the rest due to their shortage of electricity.
The topic I thought stood out from the book was that in order for electricity to enable an economy to grow, a country needs the following three factors to run an electrical grid: integrity, capital and fuel. The theory goes that:
- for a country to reap the greatest economic benefit from electricity the people using the electricity, and the people providing electricity need to work together and work fairly in order to both benefit from the electrical output and not be selfish to gain only for themselves
- the next factor needed for a grid to operate is capital to finance its construction, operation and maintenance. Further, when one is not in possession of capital, whether or not capital will be lent would be largely dependent on the perception that lenders have of the country and its peoples integrity
- the amount of capital available as well as the resources in closest proximity would then determine the fuel that would be used to power the electrical grid to generate electricity
As you would have caught on from the above, the greatest emphasis was put on integrity. I feel that this holds very much truth to it because i had the privilege to experience life in a third-world country, and also a first world country, and thus could gain valuable perspective on how the integrity of a country can strongly impact the economy. I grew up in South Africa, where, sadly, corruption was something that became more and more a norm to the politics of the country. The electrical grids weren’t run with integrity, and as a result we experienced black outs now and then. This in turn resulted in businesses losing money, and so on. Now, I moved to Germany for a contract, and since I came here I watched the news, the people around me and the politicians. Here, I felt that they were taking due care to do their jobs with utmost integrity, and as a result the people seem more at ease.
- Of course there are endless factors that are involved in the running of a country, and the above observation is solely my own, but I think that one can see how the perception by those paying taxes to those running the electrical grids does make an impact how well the economy runs.
The next great thing I learnt about was the Terawatt Challenge, which lists the top 10 problems facing the world, which are: 1) Energy, 2) Water, 3) Food, 4) Environment, 5) Poverty, 6) Terrorism and War, 7) Disease, 8) Education, 9) Democracy and 10) Population. From this the attention is directed to the first element, Energy (specifically Electricity) which is seen as such a vital component that we need to work on securing for our current lifestyles to be sustained.
From this he then goes into the next few chapters where he introduces the reader to the different sources from where electricity can be generated (oil, coal, nuclear) and where we are striving to move towards (solar, wind, hydro). He tells us that there is a trend in the world to make green electricity a bigger part of all economies to help reduce the greenhouse gases that are emitted to our atmosphere. However, he does clarify that going fully green has also shown its challenges (cost, storage, scale and land use) that make it difficult to convert to 100% green energy:
- cost – the current amount of energy that is collected from coal, and oil requires a significant investment in solar panel/hydro/wind farms in order to generate the same amount of electricity
- storage – burning coal and oil to produce energy to generate electricity is not hindered by any weather conditions. With green sources however, electricity generation will be dependent upon season changes, and only when the sun shines (during the day) or the wind is present. Thus, to generate sufficient energy to meet our needs year round we would need to store significant amounts of energy in batteries for the seasons where there is no wind, or the sun only shines a few hours of the day
- scale – the demand for electrical energy is growing yearly since we are becoming more accustomed to more digital lifestyles, and therefore replacing all existing energy-producing sources with green machinery will require time, and thereafter the number of machines that will be needed to serve the continuing growing demand of electricity afterward. Thus, the time needed to replace all bad-machinery with green-machinery is not something that can be solved as quick as we might think
- land use – further, the examples that the author uses to showcase the results of countries where wind farms and solar panels were installed, shows that the size of land that is needed to generate the same amount of electricity as is currently produced by a coal farm is significantly larger.
From the above I captured that this will be an even bigger industry in the coming decades, and that the transition to green energy is something that can sadly not be solved within a short time span.
I gained much more perspective and insight into this industry, than I actually thought I would when I first bought the book. The author takes his time to explain well enough to the reader how electricity is a precious commodity to our modern lives, and what is currently going on in the industry in the present day. Therefore I’d like to rate the book as a 4.2/5
Have a great one!!!