In a world where massive energy consumption is increasingly outstripping supply, blackouts are the inevitable consequence. Blackouts in India are becoming an increasingly common problem, where in several large states, electricity demand outstrips supply at peak hours by more than 12% (1).
Two major blackouts occurred in the space of two days at the end of July, the worst the country has seen. Hundreds of millions of people were without electricity, there were massive traffic jams on the roads as signals broke down, and factories and businesses came to a stand-still (2). Without electricity, few businesses can continue to function, plus with traffic chaos and electric trains grinding to a halt few employees will even be able to get to work, and the country’s economy will be put on hold for the duration with the loss of hundreds of millions of dollars.
As developing nations strive to catch up with the affluence of the West, using more and more appliances, such as fridges, freezers, microwaves, dishwashers, not to mention the tumble-dryer, this is a problem that is set to get worse.
With ever-increasing demand, many more power-stations are due to be commissioned to combat the problem, although if the country opts for heavier reliance on fossil-fuels, this will have a significant impact on the environment.
In the short term, one solution to deal with the problem of blackouts would be to import energy from countries with a surplus of supply, although this is currently being hampered by political problems and a lack of cross-border transmission-lines.
In Scotland, a country with widespread use of hydro-electric schemes that supply around 10 % of the nation’s electricity, with 1.4GW of hydro-electric generating capacity (3), the solution in use to stabilise supply is to pump water up to a hilltop reservoir when demand is low, such as overnight, then release the water down through electricity-generating turbines at the peak periods of demand. Electricity demand peaks in the evening during the week when people return from work to cook their meal, watch television, listen to music, switch on their lights etc.. The reservoir acts like a battery; with this method there is always the potential power there ready to kick in when it is needed and there will be no blackouts resulting from demand outstripping supply.