Winnipeg Violent T-Storm and India’s Blackout: Welcome to the Climate-Energy Era


The aftermath from Winnipeg’s rapid fire Thunderstorm on July 29, 2012 via The Weather Network: Photo source: http://www.theweathernetwork.com/your_weather/details/4029/7325544/13/hits/604800/786?ref=ugc_mostviewed_thumbs

Winnipeg’s short violent thunderstorm on July 29 and India’s massive blackout between  July 30 to 31 . You would not think these two stories are intertwined. After all, one store is on the other side of the world, and one impacted us here in the River City.  Well they do and should give you some food for thought in the climate-energy era.

The first story of the week, hit very close to home. Winnipeg, on July 29th had a wild and wacky thunderstorm. The storm occurred as temperatures hit around 35 celsius (C) during the day.  Then, according to a Winnipeg Free Press article, a ridge of cold air from Dauphin that afternoon. The storm swamped the Manitoba capital just around 6pm, causing damage due to severe winds reaching close to 80 kilometres per hour (kpm), along with heavy rains.  Smashed roofs, damaged trees were scattered all over the city, as Manitoba Hydro crews were trying to restore power across the city. The storm had the similar feel of the derecho storms that hit the Midwest and eastern US in late June.

While Winnipeg has had severe storms in the past, this one was unique according to some analysts.  Ronald Stewart,  the head of the University of Manitoba’s faculty of environment and geography said  that perhaps,  this storm is a story of things to come, tying it to climate change:

“I can see that, the new normal,” Stewart said. “One doesn’t want to couch everything in climate change, but when you have a warmer world, you’re going to have huge dryness and huge wetness. We have one of the most extreme climates in the whole world. It could become even more so. I don’t think this storm set a precedent. I do think it is indicative of the variable climate that we have.”

A traffic jam, during the India Blackout, courtesy of Indiablackout.com. Photo source: http://indiablackout.com/traffic-jam-in-new-delhi/

Meanwhile, on the other side of the world, India was hit with the world’s largest blackout.  The blackout effected between 600 to 700 million people, around 10% of the world’s population.  A late monsoon in the country, along with a overwelmed grid were just some of the reasons officials and experts have given towards an unprecedented blackout.

Both Winnipeg’s rapid fire thunderstorm,  along with India’s nutty blackout provide some interesting examples of how to deal with future scenarios like this in the climate-energy era.

First, in terms of Winnipeg, this storm quite frankly shows, Winnipeg, and Manitoba are not ready for the “big” storm. What if in the future, Winnipeg does get hit by a large tornado , causing severe damage. Or, even just as bad, what if Winnipeg, or somewhere in Manitoba, gets pounded by a rainstorm in February, causing flash flooding in the future. Not only that, but ideas of a freezing rain storm in the winter, instead of a blizzard are definitely not out of the question.

Both the province of Manitoba and Winnipeg, really need to come up with updated infrastructure, along with better planning to deal with climate change related problems in the future.  This ranges from more alternative energy sources, to upgrading sewer backup, smart grids, and more strategic warning systems.

In terms of India, the blackout showed the current grid in the emerging market country is severely stressed and outdated. The grid needs upgrading, if it wants to compete with other emerging markets, including China. Take it from one energy analyst who was quoted in a USA Today article about the blackout:

“Underinvestment at both the state level and national level has been building as power demand increases,” said Charles Ebinger, director of the Energy Security Initiative at the Brookings Institution. “This is just a colossal case where everything has come home to roost after years of neglect.”

While the blackout has shown some of the problems with their grid and the need to keep up with India’s massive power appetite, the crisis has spurred talk about increasing renewable energy investments in the country.

An article from Germany’s Deutsche Welle provided interesting points to further this argument:

“India covers over half of its energy needs with coal. In order to tackle the country’s energy problems, experts have long been demanding that India move away from coal and use renewable and ecologically friendly sources like sun and wind energy. A number of new nuclear power plants are currently under construction. But since the nuclear disaster in Japan’s Fukushima prefecture, opposition to nuclear energy has grown considerably.

“We won’t be able to get away from coal as our main source of energy within the next decade. But we will surely be able to increase the amount of renewable sources we use,” said Arup Ghosh (an energy expert from New Delhi).

Solar energy has grown in India with plants like the Gujarat park in the emerging market. Photo Source: http://www.gujaratsolarpark.com/solar-energy-blooms-in-india/

In fact, there has been some excellent strides by India. They have recently installed over 1,000 mega-watts (MW) of solar photovoltaic energy across the country. That is important for developing country like India, who needs up to date capital to keep up with the demand.

The cases of Winnipeg and India this week (one area of the developed world and one an emerging market) show that climate and energy are linked at the hip and can’t be ignored any longer. One’s at least attempting to try to steer themselves in the right direction, slowly going towards renewable energy in an ever energy hungry world. The other is still stuck procrastinating, waiting for a big extreme weather event to hit, before addressing the concerns of infrastructure and warning systems.

Welcome to the climate-energy era folks. Fasten your seat belts. It’s going to be a nutty ride.

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