If, in the ancient world, it was guns and germs and steel that determined the fates of people and nations, in modern times it is electricity. No other form of power translates into affluence and influence like it. Though demand for it is growing exponentially, it remains one of the most difficult forms of energy to supply and to do so reliably. Storage is even harder. This paradox has shaped global politics, affected the outcome of wars, and underlies the growing chasm between rich and poor, educated and uneducated. It is changing the game for business, and the requirements of national defence. It is altering the landscape and complicating the task of dealing effectively with climate change.
In this book, Robert Bryce explains the unique nature of electricity as a commodity. He draws on stories from history to illustrate the stunning impact of our quest to harness it, illuminates exactly what is required to successfully sustain it, and explores the impact on societies and individuals when it collapses.
As billions of people around the world still live in darkness, the gap between the electricity haves and have-nots widens, with profound political and ethical consequences. Modern life, even civilisation, has become ever more dependent on a source of energy that must be produced locally and in the moment, in a reliably steady stream at particular wattage, conveyed on wires strung on poles or threaded through pipes. If the lights go out, so does our manner of living, with potentially devastating consequences.