The Power Crisis—Demand Outstripping the Supply
DOES your home have electricity? In millions of homes lights, refrigerator, television and many other appliances operate on electrical power. It is available at the turn of a switch. Yet, there is a shortage.
Already, in places, the demand for power has exceeded the supply, and lights have dimmed or gone out temporarily. The New York Times last summer reported: “Americans by the millions are living under the daily threat of power brownouts, blackouts and possible electricity rationing. But it is more than a seasonal shortage of power. It is part of a national crisis.”
Describing last summer’s situation, December’s Science Digest said: “Brownouts were common. Blackouts in some places became routine. Some of the power networks, teetering on the edge of electrical chaos, barely got by without massive catastrophes.” Were you affected?
These power failures inconvenienced some temporarily. Their elevators stopped operating. Their airconditioners ceased to function. Radios and televisions would not play. Refrigerators no longer kept food cold. And families with electrical cooking appliances could not use them to prepare meals.
Realizing the Crisis
But perhaps you have been unaffected, only hearing that there is a power crisis. And since your power supply seems reliable, you may have given the matter little consideration. Yet the situation is serious, probably more so than you realize. It is not just a matter of inconvenience due to some temporary power shortages and equipment failures. The threat is of total collapse, as energy expert Thorton F. Bradshaw, in an interview with U.S. News and World Report, observed:
“I don’t think most people will recognize this crisis until they go to a light switch, turn it on and nothing happens. Even then they will think, well, something has happened to whatever utility supplies their electricity. . . . we’ve always had such an abundance of cheap energy that people cannot believe that there is an energy crisis.”
Yet the crisis is real. And it is already beginning to be felt. For example, frequently last summer large consumers of electricity in New York city were called up and asked to cut back on their use of power, something the general public probably did not realize. Emphasizing the crisis, Commissioner William K. Jones of the New York Public Service Commission said in a seventy-seven page report:
“Over the long run it is plain that the city of New York and related portions of Westchester County cannot hope to survive under present conditions—these areas are being strangled by the lack of an adequate supply of vitally needed electric power.”
Nor is the problem a sectional one, limited to one part of the United States. Speaking about the country as a whole, John A. Carver, Jr., member of the Federal Power Commission, said: “For the next three decades we will be in a race for our lives to meet our energy demands.”
Other countries, too, are affected, including Europe and Japan. Japan’s premier said that his country’s greatest problem was obtaining sufficient power. “Power is the key,” he said, “for the next 30 years.”
But why is there such a demand for power today? How much power is used? From where does it come?