It’s Time to Protect the Grid

It’s Time to Protect the Grid

The sun may be a greater threat to the grid than Iran or North Korea.

“It began around 6:30 in the evening on August 28. An aurora spread across the northern sky as far south as Cuba. The greatest intensity in color was at the Zenith. The aurora’s rays emitted an intense red light. Flashes of white light appeared among them. 

“Similar auroras occurred in the southern hemisphere with one observed as far north as Sydney, Australia and in Chile.”

“The aurora continued on August 29, and then again on September 1 and through September 3rd.”

“Telegraph operators were thrown from their equipment – equipment too hot to touch from the surge of electric currents.”

“An analysis showed that equipment connected to the longest lines was damaged the most severely. These conditions were observed in the United States and London.”

(The above description is an extract from The Sun Kings, by Stuart Clark.)

These events, that occurred in 1859, are referred to as the Carrington Event, named for the astronomer who reported on the solar storm.

Other solar storms, roughly 40% the size of the Carrington Event, occurred in 1921 and in 1989. The 1989 event caused the grid in Quebec, Canada to fail.

It’s been known for decades that a solar storm the size of the Carrington event could destroy many parts of the grid. Specifically, there are 300 high voltage transformers in the United States and Canada that could fail from a Carrington-like event.

It requires a year to build a high voltage transformer and there are virtually no replacements available for transformers now in service. Here are quotes from the Congressional Research Service.

“While a few manufacturers in the United States claim to be able to manufacture transformers rated over 300 KV, it’s not certain they can do so.”

“High voltage transformers make up less than 3% of transformers in U.S. power substations, but they carry 60%-70% of the nation’s electricity.” 

“The destruction of more than three transmission substations would cause long-term blackouts in many areas of the country. 

“Reportedly, a FERC power flow analysis in 2013 identified 30 such critical HV transformer substations across the continental United States; disabling as few as nine of these substations during a time of peak electricity demand reportedly could cause a ‘coast-to-coast blackout.’ ”

High Voltage Transmission lines, From EIA

There is the potential for this to be a civilization-ending event in the United States and Canada, and possibly Northern Europe. 

In the United States, there is the possibility that 200 million people, from Boston to Seattle, could be without electricity, food, water and sewage treatment etc. for months, or possibly for over a year.

Until recently, there have been studies, but little real action, to confront this potential disaster, which is the same as could result from an electromagnetic pulse (EMP) nuclear attack.

President Trump issued an executive order, EO 13865, in March, 2019, requiring, first to establish the effect of magnetic impulses on the country, and second, to establish the actions needed to protect the country from such pulses. This work was to be completed within a specified period of time. 

EO 13865 is the first substantive action taken thus far to protect the country, not just the military, from a Carrington event or an EMP nuclear attack.

Some have questioned the need for such action, with the Washington Post saying that an EMP nuclear attack is unlikely because any attacker would be annihilated. It then said a Carrington event is inevitable, but was silent on why the executive order wasn’t needed.

While the probability of a Carrington event occurring sometime in the future is 100%, no one knows when it might actually occur. It is just as likely to occur this year as next year, or the year thereafter … or in the next decade, etc.

This lack of certainty results in a tendency to put off the required actions. But, the consequences of failing to take action are too great to ignore the possibility of such an event.

Hopefully, EO 13865 will get the job done.

. . .

 

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