International Conference on the Global Grid
The implications of electrical interconnection between countries and regions goes far beyond mere electrical energy transfer. It comes to bear directly on the issues of pollution and resultant global warming, the population explosion, environmental degradation, poverty and world hunger, international trade/global economic prosperity. Interconnections affect the quality of life, measured in terms of infant mortality, longevity, clean water and literacy. Fundamentally, electrical interconnection between countries and regions has everything to do with world peace and stability.
In September of 1994, at the United Nations Conference on Population and Development (UNCPD), former World Bank President, Lewis Preston, stated that over two billion people today have no clean water or electricity. The correlation between electricity and quality of life is not always apparent. While different people and cultures define quality of life in their own terms, internationally standardized measures are commonly used. The following graphs illustrate the relationship between electricity and four specific quality of life indicators: life expectancy, infant mortality (the number of children per 1000 live births who die in their first year), adult literacy and availability of safe drinking water.
The pattern is the same for each chart those people having less than 1000 Kilowatt-hours/capita/year remain in daily survival. Today, this constitutes 60% of the world's population. Approximately 20% of the population falls between 1000 and 2000 Kwh/capita/year, and these people live in many of the newly industrialized economies of Latin America, Middle East and Southeast Asia. Only 20% of the world (1.1 billion people) have more than 2000 Kwh/capita/year, which appears to be a clear threshold between developing and developed societies.
Furthermore, as energy consumption reaches 1000 Kwh per capita in the least developed countries, it appears that nations can anticipate at least a 50% literacy rate. At 2000 Kwh per capita, they can expect over 85% literacy rate, and at 4000 Kwh per capita, virtually 100%.
Many countries did not report information on safe drinking water; hence some primary nations are missing from the chart. However, it is evident that an increase in energy consumption per capita brings sewage disposal and a greater ability to store, pump and filter water. Once a country reaches 2000 Kwh per capita, they can expect that over 90% of the population will have potable water.
Life expectancy definitely increases with energy consumption. Once a nation reaches 2000 Kwh per capita, the average life expectancy is over 70 years. (China's emphasis on controlling birth rates and improving health care has resulted in a higher than average life expectancy based on their energy consumption). The developing nations could significantly improve life expectancy with increased availability of energy.
The World Health Organization and many hunger response groups have identified an Infant Mortality Rate (IMR) of 50 as the point of no return to a hungry nation status. No country which has achieved this level has ever gone back to an IMR of 50+. (China's emphasis on controlling birth rates and improving health care has resulted in a lower than average IMR based on their electricity consumption). Many nations could significantly decrease their IMR with increased availability of electricity. Electricity provides the essential infrastructure for clean water, food preparation and refrigeration, and waste disposal.
The implications of these facts, especially on the women and children of the world, are staggering. Their entire day, from dawn to dusk, is spent in survival, handling the basic tasks of collecting water and firewood, and procuring and preparing food for their families. There is no time for education. There are no health services without electricity to refrigerate medications or run diagnostic equipment. Hunger and misery are the rule. Collection of wood for fuel continues to denude the land and contribute to desertification. In the developed countries, electricity provides us the means to accomplish all these above mentioned tasks with ease.
Research and history show that as living standards increase, the insurance births of developing nations decrease. When you realize that we are now adding 240,000 people per day to the planet, it becomes essential that we examine solutions that can meet the growing societal demand at a scale that is required.
At the political/societal level, international interconnections have powerful implications for world peace. The requirements for interconnections engender cooperation across political boundaries, even between once longstanding enemies. Two recent examples speak clearly to this. Two months after the fall of the Berlin Wall in 1989, East and West Germany began the integration of their power grids. In 1995, one of the agreements between Israel and Jordan in the Washington Declaration was the interconnection of electric networks. If this can happen after the hand shake, it begs the question, can future interconnections actually drive the peace process between neighboring nations around the world? The United Nations would be the ideal global body to facilitate this discussion.
Positive implications are not only a function of interconnection itself, but are also a result of the fact that interconnections allow tapping of remote, renewable resources as never before. Long distance interconnections are being used to link cheap, renewable, non-polluting energy to centers of high demand far from the energy source. Examples such as Itiapu, James Bay and the Snowy Mountains serve notice that high voltage transmission to renewable energy could make a much larger contribution to world energy demand if nations committed to cooperate at higher levels. The United Nations Environmental Program clearly realized this at the Earth Summit in Rio de Janeiro in their mandate to help mitigate climate change as a part of Agenda 21. In fact, Noel Brown, former North American Director of UNEP called the GENI initiative "one of the most important opportunities to further the cause of environmental protection and sustainable development."
No other international energy conferences deal comprehensively with the issues mentioned above in a way that develops priority projects and action steps with respect to international electrical interconnections. The United Nations could assist by making economic, environmental, social and political linkages that can help accelerate this critical global strategy onto the agenda of 185 nations.
In 1971, the United Nations itself, in its Natural Resources Committee, actually proposed the load levelling advantages of HVAC and HVDC interconnections between East/West times zones as well as the seasonal demand difference of North and South Hemispheres. Today, international networks, like the world wide web, exist for instantaneous global communication and economics. The logical and essential next step is the integration of electrical networks among all countries. It is now an idea whose time has come.
The U.S. leads the world in energy technologies. The economic gain from the export of technologies and expertise would be enormous.
The U.S. would be taking a pro-active position on global warming.
The U.S. would be seen as a "bridge-builder" and not just the policeman of the free world.
The U.S. would be advocating a business strategy that helps the humanitarian needs of many developing nations.
Political security and economic prosperity in the developing countries means greater trade and prosperity for U.S. This would place fewer demands on the U.S.for military intervention to insure social and political stability abroad.