This contribution from Belgium has relevance to our North American reading audience as well. In light of geopolitical conflict, social unrest in some places, addition of renewables to the grid and the ever unpredictable winter storms – be prepared. Links at the end of the article for some suggestions.
Renewable energy policy increases all kinds of energy supply risks. What can you do to minimize its adverse effects? A version was originally published in “Doorbraack“
ANALYSIS – 13/10/2022 Rob Lemeire – © 2022
You can read today in the mainstream media that we are in an energy crisis, where people ask themselves things like: ‘ Will we suffer a cold this winter?’ The analysis is mainly limited to the high prices and to ogre Putin. That we now risk more blackouts and other energy supply problems than ever because of the crazy European climate policy, you hear less. Take the closure of the nuclear power stations in some and the overinvestment in renewable energy in all western nations. These measures should protect us against a (climate) disaster, but turn out to be a disaster themselves.
Maybe we grit our teeth at these bad political decisions, nevertheless we need to take them into account now: not only the higher energy prices, also the collapsing energy security and the general impoverishment that is now accelerating. We should not underestimate the seriousness: even with a pragmatic government tomorrow, it will take years before the situation is more or less back on track. Energy policy is always a long haul. Still, I don’t want to give rise to panic, that’s not my style: even though it can get quite difficult, fear is not a good counselor. Neither is blindness.
Blackouts in other countries
There have been more power outages in the West. For example, ‘green’ California , not coincidentally with a lot of renewable energy, has so many supply problems that they even have a website to map the problem at any time. Also instructive is the significant blackout in South Australia in September 2016, which was followed by a sharp increase in electricity bills, given the many wrong investments of the renewable energy policy. Part of the population thus fell into poverty. A region of 55 million inhabitants across Canada and the USA suffered a blackout in 2003, causing damage between 6 and 10 billion euros.
Is Europe heading for a similar scenario? On Doorbraak people already talked about a possible blackout in Belgium, especially in 2024, but it can come also faster. Maybe this winter already? This discussion is already raging in other countries: The Times warned a few days ago that millions of households in the United Kingdom could be switched off for up to three hours. Die Welt speaks of a blackout danger in Germany of more than 72 hours. France is already in the danger zone, according to Le Vif .
Why more chance of a blackout?
There are various reasons for an increased risk of a blackout. Take the two Belgian nuclear reactors that have shut down in recent weeks: one more incident in combination with little renewable energy and they are done. A lot of renewable energy has quite obvious consequences: if in one European country little sun shines (at night for example) and little wind blows, the same situation is probably true in many other neighbouring countries. In that case, it can expect little help from neighboring countries. Combined with less nuclear energy and more electric cars, which will strongly boost our consumption of electricity (according to the plans 3 billion kWh more by 2026). Or war: Green pressure made Europe chose Russian gas. As a result Europeans cannot technically handle American gas (with a different composition). Putin is also rubbing his hands over the European ban on the extraction of shale gas.
In addition, a cyber-attack or other form of terror on our electrical facilities can also lead to a blackout – either by enemy powers or by extreme climate activists. Even ‘earth hour’ – massively turning off the lights for an hour – is not innocent: it was one of the reinforcing factors in the blackout in Italy in 2003. After all, a blackout also happens when there is an electricity surplus – for example on a very sunny day with a strong wind.
Blackout vs Shutdown Plan
Will there be a lot of blackouts coming at us now? As an engineer I have to point out technical solutions to keep the situation manageable. The press often does not distinguish between a blackout and a shutdown: the first concerns a sudden interruption of a large part of the electricity grid due to an accident, the second a temporary and also limited but announced intervention by the network administrator to prevent a real blackout. The difference is less significant for consumers: a shutdown is no fun either.
The Belgian shutdown plan will try to avoid large city centers and capitals and ensure that there is a more or less equal distribution of the burden. The country is divided into different regions, each of which is shut down for a limited time, using a rotation system (more information on the government website ). A possible disadvantage of this is that the shutdown plan is put into effect in consultation with the (today irresponsible) government – or perhaps not. Other countries probably have similar plans.
Prepare for the worst
What can we do ourselves? Use less energy? That makes sense and given the price increases, everyone is already doing that, but it won’t stop the disaster. So make sure you have a radio with batteries to be kept informed. Also includes flashlights, cooler box, freezer ice packs, candles. And an emergency kit: non-perishable food, drink, daily consumables, handy tools. The chances of needing all this may be slim, but the situation is serious enough. Be aware that there may be supply problems with gas: prepare alternative ways to heat your home. Be kind to the neighbors, because when the going gets tough, you’re going to need them.
Above all, prepare yourself psychologically: what kind of scenarios can we expect, from a few hours to days without electricity? From an orderly shutdown to a chaotic blackout where no one knows exactly when the electricity will come back. Remember some brief bursts of chaos during Corona crisis. During a prolonged energy crisis, the problem can become much worse. Inform your children: not only about what awaits them, but also why.
Don’t Join ‘Earth Hour’
‘Earth Hour’ as we saw is a possible reason for a black-out. It’s not a noble act, it’s an act of sabotage. The next one is scheduled for March 25, 2023. Don’t participate in that! What can you do during the lockdown? Watch out for hypothermia in winter. Unplug critical equipment or turn off certain fuses to prevent damage when turning it back on. Don’t panic, but be prepared for possible panic in others. Keep in touch with the weak in the family, in the circle of friends or in the neighbourhood, especially during longer periods during severe winters.
What are the chances of a blackout or long shutdown period during this winter? For a real blackout maybe not very big. What are the chances of it happening if our energy policy continues to behave like this in the coming years? Then it seems pretty sure to me! Moreover, those who are prepared for worse can also overcome less bad situations . A good attitude is not unimportant during difficult times: for example, the wish to keep your family straight applies both during stability as through crisis situations.
Longer term effects
As South Australia taught us above, the effects of blackouts and renewable energy policies will reverberate in the form of poverty for years to come. Businesses do not like energy insecurity: not only industry, also all forms of IT, our growing digital money economy, services… Even if we get a government tomorrow that wants to take the problems by the horns, we are not there yet: energy revolutions always take many years and require expensive investments over a long period of time.
For those who care: expect big movements on the stock market! I wrote about this two years ago in ‘From climate bubble to stock market crash‘: try to make your portfolio as independent as possible from the climate industry. Take our pension funds, for example, which are full of ‘green’ investments that will eventually collapse.
A realistic scenario
Expect problems during a dark and cold winter period, especially in combination with less wind, problems in the gas or nuclear industry and shortages on a wider scale. Solidarity then quickly disappears: each country has its own difficulties. Few countries will be willing to export electricity unless at a high price. This may last for a period of several days or even longer. Either, a shutdown plan comes into effect: many citizens will then be without power for several hours on a regular basis. Either, there will be an effective blackout: that means much more chaos.
When will something like this happen? No one can answer that, but with the current energy policy it is almost inevitable that one will arrive. So prepare yourself, both practically and mentally.
Alberta Government – 14 day and 72 hour Emergency Kits
Doctors for Disaster Preparedness – Nuclear Survival Kit/Information (see page 24 and 25 for supplies list)
Canadian government – Power Outages