I was driving home today listening to Miller and Moulten on ESPN radio like I often do. They were talking about how Ghana is planning to purchase electricity from Ivory Coast to make sure television sets stay on during the 2014 FIFA World Cup match tonight against the United States. They were quoting an [erroneous] news report that said the same thing*. They almost got it right…
Ghana has problems delivering power (and, thus, electricity) to it’s people at times. Right now water levels are low in reservoirs, causing hydroelectric dam power output capacity to be low. That means power outages may occur if too many people turn on their TV sets (or lights, or anything else that requires power). Ghana is planning to solve this problem to ensure people can enjoy the match by purchasing power. Notice that I said power, not electricity.
Allow me to establish an brief analogy. Let’s say a bank has a million dollars in the safe one day, and a hundred people come in to get a thousand dollars each. No problem, right? They have the “power” to deliver that withdrawal rate. Now let’s say a couple thousand people come in to get a thousand dollars each on the same day. Problem, right? Ghana has a very small bank vault, and lots of people want a few bucks right now.
The size of the bank represents power. The amount of money being taken out in a given amount of time represents energy. If you don’t have a big enough vault (power), you will run out of capacity to satisfy withdrawals (energy).
The problem with my favorite local sports commentators’ segment was that Ghana is not purchasing electricity. Ghana is purchasing 50 megawatts of power (capacity to deliver electricity) from Ivory Coast. What Ghana is really doing is asking Ivory Coast to open up it’s power generating capacity to the people of Ghana during the world cup so individual consumers can purchase as much electricity (electrical energy) as they want. Consumers purchase electricity (energy), not power. What Ghana is trying to prevent is a shortfall of power.
Ghana may be paying Ivory Coast for this privilege, but they are not paying for electricity. They are paying for power – the capability to deliver the desired electricity to consumers. In reality, Ghana is probably not going to pay for power at all. They have asked Ivory Coast to make 50mW of power capacity available so that people can purchase electricity. If the demand requires 30 mW of power for three hours, Ivory Coast will have no problems delivering 90 megawatt-hours of energy to help the Ghanaian people lose their first match to the United States in the last three World Cups (the match just started – gotta go!)
* To be fair, the news release from Ghana’s own Public Utilities Regulatory Commission also got it wrong.