The Electric Crisis is an Overconsumption Crisis

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 Here’s an even clearer chart showing Venezuela’s relative electric profligacy, courtesy of Google’s latest fun toy, the Public Data tool.

http://www.google.com/publicdata/embed?ds=wb-wdi&ctype=l&met_y=eg_use_elec_kh_pc&scale_y=lin&ind_y=false&rdim=country&idim=country:CHL:COL:VEN:BRA:ARG:MEX:ECU:PER&tstart=31536000000&tunit=Y&tlen=35&hl=en_US&dl=en

In this data series (drawn from the World Bank’s World Development Indicators) we turn up second in the region, after Chile – but notice the fast spike in our per capita demand after 2002. It’s not hard to fathom what happened: you mix a massive consumption boom with a nominal electric rate freeze at a time when prices are growing overall, and you end up with falling real prices for electricity.

Notice that this series only goes to 2006 – data from the last four years aren’t available on Google’s fun toy yet. Just between 2002 and 2006, Venezuela’s per capita consumption spiked 20%, from 2,653 kWh to 3,207 kWh. In 2006, though, the oil boom was just starting to get going!

Addendum: A bit of extra research turns up this article. In January and February of this year – even after the government started rationing – the country consumed 18.1 gigawatt-hours of electricity. Doing the math, that works out to 3,893 kWh per person per year.

Even though that’s down almost 8% from the genuinely obscene 2009 level, it’s still 21% more electricity per capita than we were using as recently as 2006. 

In fact, to the 20,9% spike in consumption in the four years from 2002 to 2006 (which you can see in the chart above) you have to add an even more aggressive 31% spike in the three years from 2006 to 2009…one that’s only very partially being clawed back through the government’s recent, extremely aggressive rationing moves. 

The underlying picture is clear enough: as power gets cheaper relative to other goods and services, people use power ever more recklessly. No amount of moral suasion is ever going to change that. 

Update 2: I’ve embedded the chart code above, so now it’s interactive. Great fun.

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