Study warns power cuts will be more common in the future

( —Demands of high-powered electrical appliances, a growing world population and inadequate investment in the power sector will create more frequent power blackouts according to academic research.

In their paper Blackouts: a sociology of electrical failure, Steve Matthewman, Associate Professor of Sociology at the University of Auckland, and Hugh Byrd, Professor of Architecture at the University of Lincoln, United Kingdom, reveal that today's occasional "blackouts" are mere dress rehearsals for the future.

They argue that they will occur with greater frequency and increased severity and that the West needs to abandon the idea of uninterrupted electricity supply.

According to the study, power cuts will become more regular around the globe as electrical supply becomes increasingly vulnerable and demand for technology continues to grow at an unprecedented rate.

China, Brazil and Italy have already had significant power failures in the past decade.

New Zealand does not escape. The report outlines how Auckland's CBD was crippled with power cuts for 5 weeks in 1998. Generators became a common site in the city centre as shops and business struggled to remain open.

Also, despite being blessed with about an 80% renewable energy supply, with climate change there is predicted to be less rain and less snow in temperate regions, both of which will have negative impacts on hydroelectricity that we depend on.

"Infrastructural investment across Europe and the USA has been poor, and our power generation systems are more fragile than most people think," Professor Matthewman says.

"The vulnerability of our electricity systems is highlighted by one particular blackout which took place in Italy in 2003, when the whole nation was left without power because of two fallen trees. This reality is particularly alarming when you consider the world's increasing dependency on electricity." 

They note that there have already been frequent warnings about future blackouts in Britain from as early as 2015 from government advisers. The picture is broadly similar across the world, with the American Society of Civil Engineers warning that US generation systems could collapse by 2020 without $100 billion of new investment in power stations.

United States figures show that as long ago as 2007 commercial and domestic air-conditioning alone consumed 484billion kilowatt hours of electricity – not much more than the country's total energy consumption in the mid-1950s.

But guaranteed electrical power is under threat because of resource constraint, with the depletion of fossil fuel reserves and the transient nature of renewable energy sources. The Western world also relies on ageing systems; for example, almost three quarters of American transmission lines are more than 25 years old.

Explore further

New research warns world to prepare for blackout

More information: The full paper 'Blackouts: a sociology of electrical power failure', was published by the Social Space Scientific Journal, and can be accessed via the following link: … 0power%20failure.pdf
Citation: Study warns power cuts will be more common in the future (2014, February 17) retrieved 19 October 2019 from
This document is subject to copyright. Apart from any fair dealing for the purpose of private study or research, no part may be reproduced without the written permission. The content is provided for information purposes only.

Feedback to editors

User comments

Feb 17, 2014
While the world may use more energy (as non-industrialized nations are catching up) you can look at the numbers for the industrialized nations: The two researchers are from the UK and New Zealand: per capita energy use has been dropping since 2000; New Zealand has been level since 2000 (with a slight drop)
impacts on hydroelectricity that we depend on

The hydro sector is very small most anyhwere you care to look at - and already near the maxium possible installed capacity...with the exception of off-shore wave generators, which aren't affected by lack of rainfall. Wind and solar can easily compensate for any drop in that area.

The reason we're seeing power outs in SOME countries is because they don't invest to maintain their power infrastructure (and cut reserve generation capacity to the bare minimum) to maximize profits. Other countries don't have that problem (I can't even remember when we had the last power outage that lasted more than a few seconds)

Feb 17, 2014
Nonsense. In general appliances and lighting are using much less electricity. My new A/C uses half the electricity as the 20 year old unit it replaced. If governments are at war with fossil fuels, that will cripple new generation plants, same for the virtual war on nuclear energy. And the money wasted on high-cost alternative energy would be better spent on research for more feasible replacement energy, and on hardening our existing transmission system. We'll be fine unless the governments and their socialist greenie enablers screw things up.

Feb 17, 2014
"reveal that today's occasional "blackouts" are mere dress rehearsals for the future."

-This assumes that we will continue to rely on our current centralized power grids. But distributed systems are catching on based on solar, wind, bloom box fuel cells and the like which will reduce stress on grids.

There is also the possibility that emergent tech will replace the grid altogether.

"MIT Cold Fusion — The Revolution Has Begun (Video)"

Feb 18, 2014
What governments especially western ones need to do is invest in a infrastructure that keeps basic needs flowing during outages, things like food/farms/grocery stores/trucks to move food, waste/water.

Electric trucks with quick swap battery packs and solar charging stations every 100 miles or so and panels on the trailer roofs. Solar powered waste/water plants, These may not be the solution but if the grid did go down it would have an invaluable effect on the quality of life post grid.

Perhaps relocating the NSA spying budget on things that will actually make the US safe from terrorist attacks would be a good idea.

Please sign in to add a comment. Registration is free, and takes less than a minute. Read more