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Unprecedented Blackouts Test India’s Will

As the lights slowly flickered back to life across India, the heated argument over who is to blame for the massive blackouts was already underway, the New York Times reports:

The nation’s new power minister distanced himself from assertions by his predecessor that state officials were responsible for Monday and Tuesday’s blackouts by drawing more power for their regions than they were allotted. But the former power minister, who was promoted in a cabinet reshuffle, kept right on making those claims.


[The Minister’s] statements were mocked by a number of political observers and became grist for severe criticism from opposition lawmakers. Prakash Javadekar, a spokesman for the opposition Bharatiya Janata Party, said that the government was merely trying to divert attention from its own incompetence.

It’s no secret that India’s infrastructure hasn’t been able to keep up with its population growth or industrial expansion. The power grid is no exception. India’s Central Electricity Authority has reported up to 8 percent power deficits in recent months, forcing many to rely on portable generators rather than the fickle power grid. Still, even a generator is a rare luxury in a country where more than a third of the population has no access to public utilities whatsoever.

Sometimes a problem has to turn into a crisis before anybody takes the trouble to fix it. Optimists hope that India’s two massive blackouts will be the spur that forces the country to address its deep-seated problems with building and maintaining a modern infrastructure that can support the kind of economy India wants. Pessimists think the forces of inertia are just too great to make any real changes.

But if you think it’s only developing nations like India that are afflicted by the problem of an overwhelmed, decrepit power infrastructure, think again. The Washington Post reports:

The United States doesn’t yet face the critical shortage of power that has left more than 600 million people in India without electricity this week.

But the U.S. grid is aging and stretched to capacity. More often the victim of decrepitude than the forces of nature, it is beginning to falter. Experts fear failures that caused blackouts in New York, Boston and San Diego may become more common as the voracious demand for power continues to grow. They say it will take a multibillion-dollar investment to avoid them.

I’ve been reading the stories about India’s blackouts with special interest as I am leaving tomorrow for a visit to this amazing country. It will be my third, and this time I’ll be returning to some cities I’ve visited before and also breaking new ground. I’ll continue to blog while visiting; I only hope I won’t be blogging by candle light, hoarding the last few precious moments of battery charge.

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  • Tom Gates

    Though not written about in the MSM, I am told by some that India’s focus on shutting down its coal fired plants without proper replacement is a huge part of this problem.

  • MW

    The U.S. power grid is only stretched by first world standards. Its condition bears no resemblance to India’s decrepit system.

    U.S. power demand is growing only very slowly: 1-2% per year, so there is no great urgency to improve the system. A multi-billion dollar investment to upgrade the grid may sound like a lot, but it is peanuts in the massive electric power industry, where total investment approaches $1 trillion. This amount of capital can easily be raised.

  • Walter Sobchak

    New York, Boston, and San Diego are run by leftists who consistently block power plant development, and power line construction.

    New York, through its elected officials is trying to shut down the Indian Point Nuclear plant that supplies as much as 30% of its electricity. New York despite having the same geology as Pennsylvania and Ohio is blocking new natural gas wells made by “fracking”.

    They deserve blackouts, and lots of them. They have worked hard for them, they have earned them, and I will be glad to see it happen.

  • Mick The Reactionary


    “It’s no secret that India’s infrastructure hasn’t been able to keep up with its population growth or industrial expansion. ”

    I don’t know. Reading Tommy Friedman and Prof Mead I thought India is a paradise of advanced programmers happily creating startups to compete with Apple and Google.

    Who knew that they do it using power from generators attached to stationary bikes worked by coolies.

    Is there anything in MSM that has any resemblance to reality?

  • David
  • teapartydoc

    I seem to remember hearing some nonsense just the other day about how socialist-tending countries save and invest in infrastructure better than more capitalist-tending countries. I will grant that India is coming out of the socialist cave, but this crisis is a left-over from an extremely Blue form of governance. Will we be inundated with a raft of irrelevant statistics? Wait and see.

  • Walter Sobchak

    “Is there anything in MSM that has any resemblance to reality?”

    Not the NYTimes op-ed page, that is for sure.

  • Dr. Kenneth Noisewater

    Good thing India’s working on thorium power, though IIRC not using molten salt reactor technology. With thorium, their power infrastructure could very well leapfrog much of the developed West.

    This also goes to show that outsourcing to a place with patchy infrastructure is an operational risk that needs to be taken into consideration.

  • Fred

    Simple solution: Dilithium Crystals.

  • Andrew Allison

    I fear that Prof. Mead’s enchantment with India may be blinding him to the possibility that there is something seriously wrong wrong with it. It appears to me that the ruling elites (business and government) care not a fig for the huddled masses.

  • SDN

    I’m surprised thibaud hasn’t shown up to tell us how removing hydro dams and shutting down power plants in the name of Holy Gaia is a Good Thing.

    After all, spending money on shoring up the infrastructure wasn’t a worthy use of Porkulous funds because it created too many jobs for burly men.

  • koblog

    As I have reported before, leftists, NIMBYs, greens and opportunistic politians are seeking to close down a functioning natural gas fired power plant in Redondo Beach, CA even as the AES utility is trying to upgrade its generation capability with a modern, clean system.

    Haters of the plant say “studies have shown” that the plant’s output is not required, even as we Californians are forced via our Smart Meters to cut back power usage according to government Flex Alert dictates.

    Additionally, per the city’s own building code, the minimum power panel capacity is now 200 amps for any new or remodel construction! (My 1941 house originally had four screw-in fuses feeding 40 amps.)

    We need more power generation, not less.

  • Joel Shepherd

    I’m based in Delhi doing a PhD — there’s actually a lot of power generation under construction here, but a lot of it started in the last year or two, and won’t be ready for several more years, by which stage power demand will have shot up again.

    The problem is the mismatch between the government’s old socialist/populist reflexes, and the requirements of the new economy. The government isn’t really socialist, it’s just populist, so they love socialism because it serves populism, allows them to give away lots of free or subsidized power to farmers and others in the hope of buying votes. But that prevents the power companies from becoming efficient and profitable, and blocks new investment, leading to the current deficit.

    The boom in India is real — as demonstrated by the soaring demand that partly caused these collapses. But while the private sector is changing fast, the government isn’t. In time it should even out as the electoral clout of the middle classes exceeds that of the freebie-handout classes, but it’ll take time.

  • Ari Tai

    The well-to-do in Virginia already had a taste of this last month when a storm kept places like Reston in the dark for four (sweltering, freezer spoiling) days. The leftists said “if only you’d buried those high-voltage transmission lines, this wouldn’t have happened.” Nonsense. It was nimby, green, and anti-growth interests that have kept utilities from doing what they like to do and what comes naturally (increase their cost basis so they can make more cost-plus-percentage profit). Including additional feeds for capacity and redundancy, more peaking generators, etc. To say nothing of clear-cutting trees along significant rights-of-way and agressive trimming in residential areas.

    It couldn’t have happened to a nicer, more ignorant and deserving, bunch. They were especially upset that the farmers got their power back before they did.

  • Jennifer Philips

    Very Good blog and awesome writing too , and great thanks to the writer

    Nifty Options Tips

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