Source: Peak Prosperity
India’s recent series of power blackouts, in which 600 million people lost electricity for several days, reminds us of the torrid pace at which populations in the developing world have moved onto the powergrid. Unfortunately, this great transition has been so rapid that infrastructure has mostly been unable to meet demand. India itself has failed to meets its own power capacity addition targets every year since 1951…
But the story of India’s inadequate infrastructure is only one part of the difficult, global transition away from liquid fossil fuels. Over the past decade, the majority of new energy demand has been met not through global oil, but through growth in electrical power.
Frankly, this should be no surprise. After all, global production of oil started to flatten more than seven years ago, in 2005. And the developing world, which garners headlines for its increased demand for oil, is running mainly on coal-fired electrical power. There is no question that the non-OECD countries are leading the way as liquid-based transport – automobiles and airlines – have entered longterm decline.
Why, therefore, do policy makers in both the developing and developed world continue to invest in automobile infrastructure?
Interestingly, instead of investing in the powergrid, India embarked earlier last decade on a massive highway project, known as the Great Quadrilateral. This created a kind of grand, national circular whose “four and six-lane, 3,625 miles run through 13 states and India’s four largest cities: New Delhi, Calcutta, Chennai (formerly Madras), and Mumbai (formerly Bombay),” according to a 2005 New York Times article. The piece continues, describing the ongoing, 15-year effort (to be completed this year) as “the most ambitious infrastructure project since independence in 1947 and the British building of the subcontinent’s railway network the century before.”
Alas, the irony is rich. India conceived of this highway project as oil prices hit deep lows at the end of the past millennium. Now that the highway network is constructed and oil prices have more than quadrupled, it is massive investment in the powergrid that hundreds of millions of Indians so desperately need instead—not road building.