The Electric Crisis is an Overconsumption Crisis

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

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.