Monday, August 30, 2010

The electrical age – no Plan B

It is my view that we should call this “age”, the age we are currently living in, the “electrical age”. Everything that we do today seems to be governed by the use of electricity – from either mains or a battery. Just think how much we rely on electricity - if there was a major power cut or an “outage”- nothing would work. We couldn’t cook; couldn’t read (no lighting); couldn’t use a computer (even lap-tops need to be recharged at some stage); couldn’t travel (electrical suburban trains or trams); couldn’t use telephones (unless it is an old land line handset - which uses the electricity in the line itself) and cell phones need to be recharged; couldn’t use any bank cards.

Seriously if there was NO electricity then we would be in real trouble. What drew this to my attention is the fact that my employer banks with one of the four major banks in Australia and this afternoon, “all the lines are down” to that bank. Meaning we could not process any payments using a card. So any customer had to pay cash or there was no sale! But then if they used the particular bank concerned they could still not withdraw any cash because “all the lines are down”.

If there was a major catastrophe, God forbid, a major earthquake or something that affected the entire nation and ALL electricity was cut off or all generating capacity had to be shut down, what would happen? While fuel in vehicle tanks or immediate storage tanks remained then some movement or some power could be generated for emergencies – hospitals and the like. But as soon as that fuel ran out they could not be refilled – no electricity at the service stations to pump fuel. All refining capacity would be reduced to zero – again no electricity to run equipment. There would be no water – no refining and no pumping to give pressure. Abattoirs and dairies would cease operating – no refrigeration and no power to run equipment. Even gas needs electricity to pressurise and pump it.

When you think about it, our total reliance on electricity is a major weakness in our society. We have no “Plan B” to fall back on if anything happened. I am not sure what can be done about it except build as many safeguards and duplicate “fail safe” systems into the electrical grids as possible. The internet is a weakness - all the “fire walls” built into the system will not stop a determined person (or persons) with malicious intent from causing serious delays and damage by feeding virus’ into the electrical process.

Our only real fall back, Plan B, is to revert to a manual system using minimal electricity but I cannot imagine that anyone would choose this course of action – unless we were forced to.

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