Blog: To be or not to be – energy’s always the question

There’s often so much focus these days on the threat of climate change that no one pauses to consider the possibility of any other potentially world-destroying natural phenomena. Such as […]

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By Vicky Ellis

There’s often so much focus these days on the threat of climate change that no one pauses to consider the possibility of any other potentially world-destroying natural phenomena. Such as an LA-sized meteor crashing into Earth and eradicating every single life form on the planet.

Not so the writer of a play I went to see this week (sometimes I moonlight as a reviewer for Whatsonstage.com), a new “apocalyptic comedy” called Top Story which follows just such a scenario with scientists predicting humans have a week left before crashdown – and extinction.

Funnily enough for a news journalist, I found myself watching the 24 hour news cycle being sent up with an Emily Maitless-style presenter charting the blow-by-blow events as various doomed correspondents give her the latest.

Often in drama whether it’s film, theatre or television, we’re asked to suspend our disbelief, ignore plot holes or practical issues which might make the action impossible.

In Top Story’s case, it was that in the last week before meteor death was predicted, everyone still had enough power to continue using their mobile phones and tellies, TV news crews continued to beam pictures around the world and so on.

It was hard to suppress my scepticism – I think the energy world is turning me nerdy. Did all the roving teams have a super-powerful solar panel stuck on the roof of their support trucks? Or the TV studio have its own mini biomass boiler, tucked away in the back room for an emergency? Unlikely.

Would families sitting at home in front of the box still be able to cook dinner, charge their smartphone, watch the news coverage without disrupted electricity? Again, I thought unlikely.

As much as I’m sure power plant engineers would continue to hold their posts in the event of a future world disaster, it’s all too easy to imagine they might not be able to for whatever reason. Or for that matter, anyone else crucial to the power network, from the traders buying energy or gas for our CCGT plants, or the crews of ships carrying that gas, to wind turbine or transmission line repairmen.

Imagine what would happen if one link, just one, in the chain from power source to electricity socket were to break down.

It is frightening in many ways: hospitals losing electricity for vital equipment, street lamps cut out on motorways and in control towers directing planes to land; trains and tubes suddenly grounded to a halt, telecoms failing on calls to fire brigades and the police.

Think of all the little things too which could be spoiled: the birthday cake in the oven sinking, the last tie-breaking penalty kick missed on TV, the long overdue catch up phone call cut off: not life or death moments, but important in life all the same.

I would be fascinated to see a realistic portrayal of what it might be like if we suddenly lost power on the stage or screen. But perhaps what strikes me most on reflection, is how lucky we are to have so many people working diligently to keep those moments in life ticking over, 24/7.

As for Top Story, I wouldn’t have minded a meteor strike taking me out halfway through…