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Solar Event Risk to Power Grid

April 15, 2011, by Ken Jorgustin


The electrical power grid has only existed for a sliver of time in human history. A solar SuperStorm of the size and duration of the 1859 Carrington Event has not happened in that time, and there is a general assumption that something of this magnitude (or worse) will never happen again. This assumption is completely and entirely false. It absolutely will happen again (do your own search-engine research on this 1859 event to discover the scientific facts to back up that statement).

When it does, there is a high probability that much of the world’s power grid infrastructure will be downed for years, and possibly decades. Think about that for a minute…

The effects of an 1859 solar event will be to burn out transformers all around the power grid. Many hundreds of the largest transformers are particularly problematic. Studies have shown that the time required to get any single replacement of these large transformers (the U.S. does not make them – the majority of EHV transformers are make in India) would be about 3 years. A solar SuperStorm event will affect many parts of the world, so the time to get these replacement transformers will likely be even longer. There essentially are no spares – they are extremely expensive to build – while taking years to build them.

For those in the U.S., since the capability does not currently exist to build these large EHV transformers, it will be too late after the event, to expand manufacturing capabilities. Expansion requires lots of electrical power – which will not exist. The process would be very slow and incremental – taking years.

Our reliance on the backbone of electrical power grids feeding systems that were at first conveniences, but are now life-depending, is a tremendous risk and assumption that we make while never considering the outcome should we lose power for a period of time such as this.

Hundreds of millions would surely die. It is a hard reality. If one thinks through the logic and scenarios of what would take place, it becomes very frightening to say the least.

While many will continue to bury their heads in the sand and poo-poo the notion of it ever happening, the fact is, it will happen. Obviously we do not know when, but many scientists agree that it could happen at any time, even today or tomorrow, but most feel that the odds are it certainly will sometime during this century.

A solar SuperStorm could happen at any time during a solar cycle, even during a solar ‘minimum’. It seems though that the odds are higher during a solar maximum (lots of sunspot activity), and we are currently approaching that time within solar cycle 24, which is due to peak sometime around 2013.

This may appear as fear mongering. It sort of is I suppose, but the purpose here is survival risk awareness, which in turn may change behavior or preparedness preparations. Preparedness, after all, is a form of insurance.

What can anyone do?

From a political standpoint, one could lobby that we have enough spare transformers in place, particularly the large EHV transformers.

From a personal preparedness point of view, one could simply start thinking about ‘what if’ and what you would do if this happened – how you would survive. It’s a daunting thought process, but it could save your life. Even should such an event never occur in your lifetime, the exercise of planning will have brought you more personal self sufficiency and self reliance from the systems that are currently depended upon today.


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