For over a century, people in the advanced world, now over a billion, have pressed that switch on the wall and the light has come on. Most people regard this as natural – like the light coming in when the blinds are opened.But it is not.
Starting with Thomas Edison in the mid 1800s, a "utility" industry grew up to do what industry does in this world. It made bucks for investors and provided jobs with salaries and wages for hundreds of thousands of people by producing and selling a valued commodity, a "good" in classical economic terms, to hundreds of millions of people at prices that enabled the industry to survive and expand. Today, it is not only the light that comes on; grid electricity is involved in almost everything that makes the advanced way of life.
But a black cloud – no, a dirty green cloud – looms on the horizon, already bigger than one’s fist.
It is CONSERVATION.
Electricity suppliers have always had system planning departments which are absolutely vital because low-cost reliable electricity comes from generating stations that take years – typically a minimum of five these days – to design, build and bring into service. So system planners have to start with a forecast – only an estimate is possible – of demand five years ahead. They must then make plans to meet this demand. This process has, of course, never been perfect or quantitatively accurate, but it almost always has been good enough.
But now a new epidemic of a mild mental disease afflicts advanced humanity. Like poliomyelitis 90 years ago, it mainly afflicts the rich, though for different reasons. The main symptom is a feeling of self-guilt; it must be sinful to live so well and to put so much CO2 into the atmosphere. The advanced societies suffer because they are democratic, and their political leaders are compelled to try to assuage this guilt if they are not to lose votes. Since electricity supply tends to be a "natural"monopoly, it has justifiably tended to come under political regulation, particularly in the crucial area of economics.
So, now, in grid electricity, political leaders are in the driver’s seat, and they think they can win votes by expunging the sin of living well. Fortunately, Tom Lehrer’s urging prevails – "Fight bravely, Harvard, fight, fight, fight;— but don’t be rough, now !" The politicians have found the right path of least resistance ; the system planners are being compelled to list conservation as if it were an energy source to meet demand, whereas it is a concealed – virtuous – plan to refuse to meet demand. and thus reduce consumption; — but not too much!.
The fact that political plans will not reduce CO2 emissions enough to make the slightest difference is irrelevant; it is the preaching that will win the votes. So what will happen?
At the age of 89, I have "been there". After WW2, Britain was short of electricity for five years after 6 years of building tanks and bombers instead of power stations. It was not too bad. There were many irritating blackouts and the brownouts were hardly noticed. So that is what is in store for Ontario and BC at least. Sanity may be restored quite quickly, and the damage could be corrected in about ten years. All good fun!