On August 9th an electrical power outage hit people in parts of Cairo. This happened only ten days after India’s massive blackout grew to cover 22 northern states and impacted 600 million people. Both outages snarled traffic, stopped trains and turned off the lights for millions of people. But they also shared a common cause. When an event impacts 9 percent of the world’s population, it is reasonable to look for a root cause.
India’s weather was hot and humid during the early morning hours of July 30, 2012, but nothing out of the ordinary for late summer in this part of the world. There were no typhoons, earthquakes, solar flares or computer glitches to be blamed. A circuit breaker tripped on a power line between Bina and Gwalion, nothing out of the ordinary– the sort of problem electrical grids are designed to solve.
No, the biggest electricity blackout in human history appears to have been caused by “overdrawl.” In other words, the people of northern India simply used more power than the utilities could supply.
On the surface it appears that Egypt’s power problems are more complex. The outage which struck southern Egypt earlier in the month was blamed on a failed power plant. A failed power line, hot weather during Ramadan and Aswan electricity thieves have all been blamed for contributing to Cairo’s outage.
But modern electrical grids are designed with an excess capacity margin and enough redundancy to work around small problems.
Both the Indian and Egyptian power problems are larger and deeper than they appear. The root of these problems is that demand for electricity is outpacing supply, leaving precious little margin for error.
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