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Hybrid, Plugged-in, & Rechargeable Society (and 2-Hour Power Cut in Chennai)

February 28, 2012

It is said that the current one-hour power cut in Chennai will be extended to two hours per day. ‘Oh sweet!’ was my friend’s initial reaction. You cannot help from being sarcastic when you know that the 40-degree Chennai summer (or 100+ in Fahrenheit) is about to start within a couple of weeks.

How to cope with the surging power consumption is one of the social challenges globally. Intriguingly, we see a hint for a solution in the latest innovations by the automotive industry – hybrid, plugged-in, and rechargeable.

Hybrid

In India, where power-cut occurs daily, most high-end commercial and residential units are equipped with a generator. When power is cut, the generator kicks in, automatically or manually, and continues to supply power, fully or partially. At the most sophisticated place list a five-star hotel, the process is automatic and you would not notice the seamless shift of the power source. As the not-so-elegant place, like my apartment, it is manual and I have to change the switch when power cut happens. In either case, the building is designed to take two sources of power – electricity and gasoline. Most of the social infrastructure here, to an extent, is hybrid.

Plugged-in

In the countries where the electricity is available almost all the time, such as the US and Japan, the society is not built hybrid, but plugged-in. Therefore, a power cut becomes a major problem. You may still remember when NYC got paralyzed when a massive power outage happened in 2003. Tokyo experienced the same panic in the summer of 2011 when they had a forced power cut for the first time since 1974. The problem was that the electricity is the only, or major, power source to operate the social infrastructure. From the development perspective, this society is on the right track, consuming less fossil fuel and emitting less carbon dioxide. You could say it’s greener, compared to an imaginary world where everything is operated by gasoline.

Rechargeable

From the risk management point of view, however, this plugged-in society is less optimal. Your financial planner would agree – diversify your source.

Many automotive companies put the Electric Vehicle (EV) as a next leap from the current Hybrid Vehicle. And the key component of the EV is the battery. Although today’s EV faces some battery-related challenges – slow charging time and short travel distance – it will be just a matter of time when its capacity doubles while the size halves. You may still remember how heavy and bulky the cell phone battery was in 1990!

And this same large-capacity battery could solve the problem of the plugged-in society – as a back-up source of power. There has been a commercial experiment to utilize the EV battery as an emergency power source to support a household for two days. If I had an EV plugged-in to my apartment, I would have no problem during the two-hour power cut to come.

Today’s Lesson

As I don’t have an EV, I too will have a sweet Chennai summer in a couple of weeks.

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