Global Power Grid Vulnerability Into 2012

May 6, 2010, by Ken Jorgustin

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power-grid-lines

Modern society relies entirely on intertwined and very complex systems to bring us our essential needs as well as our non-essential wants. At any time, and for many reasons, these systems could quickly break down and leave millions of people to fend for themselves. In today’s turbulent world, this is even more true, given the technical capabilities and know-how of enemies wishing to do harm.

The modern world relies heavily on the technical systems that enable commerce. Electronic banking, ATM’s, debit cards, and credit cards are all interwoven into electronic networks that link you and your money with the seller. These systems are fairly well secured and have been working for decades, despite the occasional personal identify theft that crops up.

However, there is one single point of failure for all of these systems, and that is the power transmission system grid, or electric grid – electricity. You may think that the likeliest threat to the power system would be terrorism such as an EMP attack, but there is also another vulnerability, solar flares.


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How Solar Flares Threaten Power Systems

Solar flares sometimes erupt from sun spots. They are temporary areas of intense magnetic disturbances on the surface of the sun. The spots appear to be dark against the sun because they are actually slightly cooler than the surrounding surface due to the spot’s very high levels of magnetic activity.

Sun spot activity comes and goes in approximately 11 year cycles, the last cycle peaking during 2001 while the next cycle should peak during 2012. The cycles begin in activity very quickly when they start, and will last for a few years. We seem to be entering the early stages of a new solar cycle now, during 2010.

Occasionally a sunspot will produce a violent explosion of radiation including light waves, gamma rays, X-rays, or energized particles called a CME or Coronal Mass Ejection. If a sunspot is facing Earth during the time of a solar flare, a CME will reach Earth within one to four days depending on it’s speed, while an X-ray flare will reach the earth at light speed, which is about 8 minutes from sun to earth. These solar flares are classified as A, B, C, M, or X based on it’s energy (the X-class flare is capable of causing planet-wide radio blackouts and severe radiation storms).

If a solar flare is powerful enough, the affects are felt on earth and could damage satellites in orbit and systems on the ground, the most vulnerable of which is the electrical grid. During a solar storm, direct electrical currents build up on transmission wires, and when the currents get strong enough they will trip out circuits and destroy transformers.

The most powerful solar storm of the last 200 years occurred in 1859 when electrical telegraph wires shorted out in the US and Europe and caused widespread fires. If this were to happen today, it would be catastrophic given our reliance on the interconnected electrical systems and systems of communication.

What would happen without Power and Electricity?

Power would go out. The water pressure would gradually diminish and cease. Refrigerated foods would go bad within a day. Phones and communication systems are down. Gasoline pumps are down. Heat and air conditioning systems off. Banks and ATM machines are down. Food re-supply chains break down from lack of fuel.

The worst part is, it could take many months or much longer, to get the power back up depending on the extent of the damage and the number of transformers that have melted from the solar radiation. There are only a tiny fraction of spare transformers on hand compared to the potential damage that could occur. The challenge would be building new transformers and parts without immediate power! Manufacturing plants would have to be outfitted  with powerful generators in order to build what would be needed first, and so on. It would be a slow process.

In the mean time, what do you think would happen to society without power, water, food, and fuel? It’s not a pretty picture. People will begin dying off by the end of the first week, those without a minimal storage of water or those who live in regions where water is not immediately available to them. Desperation will result in a rampage of crime with hoards searching for food and water. Within several weeks, a complete civil breakdown will be underway as mass migration out of the major cities creates extremely dangerous conditions while people search for food, water, and supplies. You get the idea.

How to prepare for power grid failure?

The short answer is to stock up with food and water. Develop a food storage plan. It is a personal decision to decide how much you will store, but I would begin with a goal of 4 weeks, and expand from there. Don’t forget about storing water, especially if you live in an environment where water is not accessible very near by. A previous post topic discusses first steps to getting started on survival preparedness.

Preparing and preparedness is a process and a way of life. It begins by recognizing our vulnerability where we live, and the systems that we depend upon, followed by the process of preparing. Food and Water storage is a basic first step that can save your life or help to save others. There is much that follows, including developing practical skills and securing supplies (with emphasis on the practical skills), evaluating where you live and your security, and bringing awareness to the preparedness topic.

Prepare now, because the more that are prepared, the less that will become desperate during hard times.


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