New Precautions for Power Grids
According to NASA this week:
In Sept. 1859, on the eve of a below-average solar cycle, the sun unleashed one of the most powerful storms in centuries. The underlying flare was so unusual, researchers still aren’t sure how to categorize it. The blast peppered Earth with the most energetic protons in half-a-millennium, induced electrical currents that set telegraph offices on fire, and sparked Northern Lights over Cuba and Hawaii.
…As 2011 unfolds, the sun is once again on the eve of a below-average solar cycle—at least that’s what forecasters are saying. The “Carrington event” of 1859 (named after astronomer Richard Carrington, who witnessed the instigating flare) reminds us that strong storms can occur even when the underlying cycle is nominally weak.
An article in The Independent quotes Thomas Bogdan, director of the US Space Weather Prediction Centre, reconfirming how vulnerable the power grids of Europe and North America are:
The most vulnerable parts of the grid are the hundreds of transformers connected to power lines many miles long that can experience sudden current surges during a geomagnetic solar storm, Dr Bogdan said. “It points to a potential scenario where large parts of either North America or northern Europe may be without power from between days or weeks, to perhaps months and, in extreme cases, there are estimates that it could last years,” Dr Bogdan said.
Months and years without electricity will mean a large number of deaths. For example, no water pumped to your home. The US Government has decided not to spend any money upgrading their outdated infrastructure, but fortunately there may be a way of averting disaster – a controlled power cut. Basically, if a major solar storm is predicted, such as a “category 5″, the authorities can elect to shut down the entire grid for a day or two until the storm passes. This will protect transformers and potentially save many lives.
Hopefully this plan will be active ASAP!