The student news site of The Harker School.

Harker Aquila

The student news site of The Harker School.

Harker Aquila

The student news site of The Harker School.

Harker Aquila

Winged Post

Global Reset: Energy use sparks climate concern

Claire Zhao
This year alone, California has seen 39 power outages. The world consumed 176 quadrillion watt-hours of general energy in 2021, and the generation of electricity from coal emitted a whopping 868 million metric tons of carbon dioxide in 2022. Sourced from World Population Review and U.S. Energy Information Administration.

The hum of electricity halts. Lights flicker and extinguish. We’re plunged into a world of disorientation, our hands grasping for flashlights and candles in the eerie darkness. With nothing but our makeshift light sources, the once-familiar spaces around us seem foreign.

Power outages disrupt our daily lives, stripping away the technology and electricity that we depend on. This year alone, 39 power outages have already struck California. While weather and equipment failure are primary causes, power outages can also be triggered by electricity overconsumption.

When electricity demand exceeds the available supply, utility services often enforce “rolling blackouts,” or purposeful power shutoffs. In California, rolling blackouts are almost routine, as there is a shortage of power needed to keep electricity running. Upper school computer science teacher Marina Peregrino believes that during the summer, air conditioning usage contributes to these outages.

“If there’s too much of a load, like if everyone wants to turn their air conditioners on at 3 p.m. when they get home from work on a hot day, the electricity demand can be too high,” Peregrino said. “So rather than give everybody not good voltages, the [electric companies] tend to rotate who has power and who doesn’t.”

The U.S. Energy Information Administration predicts that global electricity demand will increase by around one-third by 2050. This rise is driven by our society’s dependence on electronics, whether that be devices or vehicles. So much electricity usage presents an inevitable toll on our planet and climate.

Coal and natural gas serve as the primary sources for generating electricity. Burning coal emits gaseous byproducts like carbon dioxide, and natural gas is made up of primarily methane, a harmful greenhouse gas. Ash particles from coal heating find their way into the atmosphere, leading to increased air pollution. 

Electricity overconsumption forces more and more greenhouse gasses into the air, worsening our climate. In 2022, coal-generated electricity produced 868 million tons of CO2 emissions, while natural gas-powered electricity released 743 million tons of CO2 emissions. 

The average duration of a power outage increased from 3.5 hours to more than seven hours in the U.S. between 2013 and 2021. These past few years, power outages have been prevalent in the Harker community, especially for students and faculty who live in the mountains. Upper school math teacher Dana Lieberman emphasizes the impact of storm-caused outages on her home and living space.

“When I first moved up to the mountain, we had a four-day outage, and I was not very happy about throwing out the entire contents of my refrigerator and freezer,” Lieberman said. “We’ve had one five-day outage and a couple of one to three-day outages as well. Of my 22-and-a-half days last winter, the longest single one was nine-and-a-half days. That’s twice what we’re accustomed to.”

But not all hope is lost. Just as the volume of power outages increases, so does the number of available solutions. Some emerging innovations against power outages include microgrids –– smaller, more efficient energy systems; hardening the grid –– burying transmission lines and trimming trees to prevent damage; and bidirectional charging –– using electric vehicles as home electricity generators during power outages.

As always, traditional methods of conserving electricity work just as well. The overuse of lights, air conditioning and other energy-intensive appliances can precede or prolong power outages, so it  comes down to everyone’s active participation in preventing them instead.

“Blackouts are really scary for us in the moment, but it’s important to take a step back and look at the bigger picture,” sophomore Aanya Shah said. “Blackouts are a big indication of humanity’s effect on the environment, and it’s important to realize that it’s because of overconsumption of natural resources that we as a society are using that’s damaging our environment.”

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About the Contributors
Ashley Mo
Ashley Mo, Reporter
Ashley Mo (10) is a reporter for Harker Aquila, and this is her second year on staff. This year, Ashley hopes to write about stories both within and outside of the Harker community, form friendships on the journalism team and learn more about global news events. In her free time, she enjoys playing golf and listening to music.
Claire Zhao
Claire Zhao, Co-STEM Editor
Claire Zhao (11) is the co-stem editor for Harker Aquila and the Winged Post, and this is her third year on staff. This year, Claire hopes she can get to know everyone on the journalism staff and make her interviews more conversational and open. In her free time, she likes doing photography, collecting cute stationery and ranting about her favorite media.

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