Solar flares and the threat to our power grid

Sun spots have long fascinated astronomers and scientists. Following an approximate 11 year cycle of maximums and minimums, they are thought to be responsible for solar flares and coronal mass ejections. Both these phenomena are known to cause problems with communications, satellites, and the power grid. According to this story, as the sun awakens from its current 11 year minimum, it could present serious problems for the power grid.

Recent warnings by NASA that the Sun’s current lack of activity may soon come to an end with dire implications for the world’s power sector have refocused attention on the effort being made to harden the world’s electricity networks against electromagnetic interference.

To give some idea of the potential scale of such events, it is worth looking at the largest geomagnetic storm on record, which affected much of the northern hemisphere and lasted from August 28 to September 2, 1859. It disrupted power across most of Quebec and was caused by a coronal mass ejection (CME) from the Sun. Such was its ferocity that it took only 18 hours to reach earth instead of the several days normally required by similar phenomena. The impact was largely limited by the fact that the world’s love affair with electricity had only just begun. Now that the developed world is utterly reliant on stable power supplies for the delivery of all essential services, a similar event could result in a radically different outcome.

According to NASA, a solar maximum should arrive between 2012 and 2015. Because the most recent minimum was a period of unusually low solar activity, some are predicting the sun to come back with a vengeance.

Unfortunately, current projections by NASA suggest that we may soon be due for a CME on the scale of the 1859 event. According to Dr Richard Fisher, director of the agency’s heliophysics division, solar flare activity varies in accordance with an 11-year cycle and is currently emerging from a quiet period, while the sun’s magnetic energy peaks every 22 years. As a result, solar activity is set to reach its maximum during the 2012-2015 period.

Think for a moment of what life would be like without power for an extended period – like a year or two. It wouldn’t be pretty. One possible scenario is illustrated in the book One Second After by William Forstchen.

We need to stop wasting time, energy and resources on stupid nanny state bullshit and start looking at the real threats to our existence. Hardening the power grid is something that should be getting attention instead of how fat our kids are.

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