[EAS] A Perfect Storm of Planetary Proportions
Peter J. Kindlmann
peter.kindlmann at yale.edu
Sun Feb 5 23:52:39 EST 2012
Dear Friends and Colleagues -
Just when you've recovered from power outages from Hurricane Irene
and an October blizzard, I send you an IEEE Spectrum article on the
much more serious possibilities from a major solar storm. I think you
will agree that it makes sobering reading.
Solar storms happen in 11-year cycles and we are due for one this
year or early next. The coronal mass ejections that always happen
during such cycles and cause the damage won't necessarily include one
in the direction of earth, but that's the risk. The last major such
storm blacked out all of Quebec province in 1989. A much stronger
previous such in 1921 mostly just fried telegraph circuits, the main
vulnerability then. But in the author's estimation, from such data as
there is, it was about ten times as strong as the 1989 event.
The EHV (extra high voltage) portion of the power grid is the prime
vulnerability, particularly its highly specialized transformers. At
present these are not protected against such damage, though the
author discusses how they could be. Consider this disquieting
"Of all the parts of the power grid, high-voltage transformers are
among the most likely to fail in a geomagnetic storm and also among
the most difficult to replace. If a big storm were to knock out
several hundred transformers in one fell swoop, manufacturers
wouldn't be able to supply replacements quickly-there is no global
stockpile. EHV transformers, which can handle voltages of 345 kV or
higher, weigh about 200 tons and cost about $10 million each.
Building one requires exquisite, near-artisanal craftsmanship,
including meticulously hand winding the paper-tape insulation around
the copper winding at the transformer's core. One EHV transformer can
take several weeks to assemble and test, and it takes years to train
skilled assemblers. Even the largest transformer plants can build
only about 30 to 50 per year. With the shortage of skilled labor and
specialized materials that would likely accompany a prolonged
blackout, simply maintaining that level of output would be a
challenge, never mind ramping up new production."
So if you're thinking of getting yourself a better generator, this
might be an extra impetus. You might need a large stockpile of fuel
If the above URL goes stale, email me. You'll also find it elsewhere.
A simple Google search on the title shows that it has been picked up
by many groups, and places selling survival equipment. It may even
become part of some "end of the world" scenarios.
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