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Are we ready for power rationing?

As Julia Gillard works on her carbon tax and New Zealand operates its own Emissions Trading Scheme, we had better be prepared for a Brave New World of power cuts that renewable energy promises to bring.

As Julia Gillard works on her carbon tax and New Zealand operates its own Emissions Trading Scheme, we had better be prepared for a Brave New World of power cuts that renewable energy promises to bring.

Power chiefs are already warning that this is the low carbon future our leaders have in mind, particularly if the Japanese earthquake has put us off going nuclear.

The politicians are making fuel more expensive to pay for billions to be spent on wind farms, but what if the wind doesn't blow?

Here's what Steve Holliday, CEO of Britain's National Grid has to say:

"The grid is going to be a very different system in 2020, 2030," he told BBC's Radio 4. "We keep thinking that we want it to be there and provide power when we need it. It's going to be much smarter than that.

"We are going to change our own behaviour and consume it when it is available and available cheaply."

Think about it: at present it is a near-crisis should the mains power fail. But it appears that to reduce carbon emissions, "brownouts" will become commonplace.

How will businesses cope? What about the phone lines? The internet? The computers and other devices? The relaying of information to datacentres and so on?

How will we change our behaviour? What systems will energy users, domestic and industrial, have to develop for such a world?

And it gets even worse; "smart grids" are being trialled around Australia and New Zealand .

We hear that such smart grids can control the use of a dishwasher using Bluetooth, but their potential is far more ominous.

Under the smart grid that the UK is developing, the government-regulated utility will be able to decide when and where power should be delivered to ensure that it meets the highest social purpose. Governments may, for example, decide that the needs of key industries take precedence over other industries, or that the needs of industry trump those of residential consumers. Governments would also be able to price power prohibitively if it is used for non-essential purposes.

Smart grids are being developed by utilities worldwide to allow the government to control electricity use in the home, right down to the individual appliance. Smart grids would monitor the consumption of each appliance and be capable of turning them off if the power is needed elsewhere.

IT managers will thus have to start organising how they will ensure business continuity during such regular power cuts. The CEO might have to keep certain politicians and energy bosses sweet to ensure that they are high up in the pecking order when energy supplies run low.

As those who support Earth Day prepare to spend an hour or so in darkness on Saturday, they might want to consider it good practice for the time to come if the carbon-reduction agenda they seemingly support is successful.