by John Galt
February 7, 2012 18:00 ET
Early in 2013, the eleven year solar cycle which has been running a tad bit behind schedule will finally peak and some engineers are concerned about the consequences of the event. Consider the following:
- Utilities have been generally negligent in maintaining older systems or upgrading to handle sudden shocks or surges. To validate that I invite anyone who lives from Florida throughout the Mid West where thunderstorms are often violent and extensive but creates an unstable grid miles away from where the storms impact.
- The low margins, government regulators, and environmentalist harassment has made upgrades to the power grid cost prohibitive for over a decade now.
- The government has only focused on security concerns and a unified grid concept, ignoring the threats of mother nature and what a prolonged large scale outage would do to the economy and social structure.
Thus this story from Security Management magazine’s February 2012 edition is a stunner:
(Click on the title above to read the article in full)
The quote from the article by Matthew Harwood which was a show stopper for me comes from an interview with electrical engineer John Kappenman, owner of Storm Analysis Consultants:
In the case of one storm that occurred in 1921, analysts compared its magnetization, or Bh, curves with the Bh curves of more recent storms. Analysis of another storm that occurred in 1859 is based on qualitative and anecdotal evidence of the storm’s effects on electrical systems and auroral observations of the northern lights as detailed in news reports that have been preserved.
Extrapolating the effects of those historical incidents to today in light of the effects of smaller but more recent storms gives an indication of how vulnerable today’s infrastructure may be to disruption. For example, in 1989, a geomagnetic storm caused the Hydro Quebec power grid to fail in approximately 90 seconds, causing a nine-hour blackout that left millions without power. According to modeling by Kappenman, if a geomagnetic storm the size of 1921 hit today—approximately 10 times the size of the 1989 event—more than 350 EHV transformers could be destroyed, leaving more than 130 million Americans without power. Given the magnitude of the disruption, restoration could take months if not years, says Kappenman.
I might suggest to my readers an investigation of the practicalities of stronger surger protectors and of course, Faraday cages for extremely delicate electronics. Also, don’t blame me if you’re iPad or HDTV fries, as this is your one year warning.