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12% chance by 2022, the odds a Solar flare will wipe out electric grid

12% chance by 2022, the odds a Solar flare will wipe out electric grid

I had heard of solar flares before but never really paid much attention to it. I turned on the history channel show "Doomsday: 10 days the world will end", and if you have seen it you know that its not really that good of a show. But the episode I just watched was regarding solar flares, or more specifically coronal mass ejections (CMEs) and the potential for them to wipe out the electrical grid thus descending the world into chaos. The whole time I was watching this I kept thinking, hmmm, this is a good argument for a Tesla powerwall/solar roof combo with a full electric vehicle.

Now it sounded kind of far fetched as I started watching the show, but then I did some online searching and found that it is a very real possibility that an event like this could happen. Historical precedent was the Carrington event in 1859 that wiped out large parts of the telegraph system which was the only real electrical system affected because it was the only thing in existence at that time. More recently there was CME in 2014 that barely missed earth, which if it would have hit would have had a similar impact as the Carrington event where transformers and power lines would basically explode, catch fire or fuse together due to the CMEs impact on the electromagnetic field of the earth (i am not knowledgeable enough on this part to explain how/why). Based on studies of solar storm activity of the past 50+ years, a report was published that there is a 12% chance of a CME hitting earth between 2012 and 2022. So then the theory goes that if the storm wiped out all or large portions of the grid along with GPS satellites etc, and basically all of our major industries would shut down because there wouldnt be a good way to get power to the places that need it. (I am just giving you the highlights of the theory, definitely a lot more to it)

So all that part of society shutting down would still be terrible, but if our culture had more capability for decentralized power generation and storage, seems that catastrophe could be avoided or the impact mitigated at least. To me this seems like a genuine added bonus of a Tesla power wall/solar roof/electric vehicle. Obviously it doesnt need to be Tesla, but this is a Tesla forum :) and they are the only company on the cusp of being able to offer the entire range of products under one banner. Ride out the apocalypse in style haha. Keep in mind this is not really all that different than Elon Musk's SpaceX mission of avoiding calamity by being a multi-planet species and colonizing Mars.

https://en.wikipediaDOTorg/wiki/Coronal_mass_ejection#cite_note-NASA-201...

https://science.nasaDOTgov/science-news/science-at-nasa/2014/23jul_super...

Red Sage ca us | 24/10/2016

There is a much higher likelihood that Miami, Gulfport, New Orleans, and Galveston will be wiped from the map before then.

Remnant | 24/10/2016

@nadurse (OP, October 24, 2016)

<< 12% chance by 2022, the odds a Solar flare will wipe out electric grid ... [If] our culture had more capability for decentralized power generation and storage, [it] seems that catastrophe could be avoided or the impact mitigated at least. To me this seems like a genuine added bonus of a Tesla power wall/solar roof/electric vehicle. >>

Yes, either a solar flare or a single nuclear explosion in the stratosphere (like N Korea will be able to conduct before long) could generate electro-magnetic pulses (EMP) powerful enough to destroy both the grid AND ALL the electrical and electronic circuits across our whole continent.

Unfortunately, unless EVs have been well shielded when manufactured AND protected during the EMP by a Faraday cage or some similar anti-EMP device, they could not survive such an EMP. Tesla has not published anything to date to suggest its cars have an effective EMP protection.

Yes, as you say, distributed energy production could protect it against a total demise, but, at this time, PV cells and arrays might not survive a sizeable EMP. unless they were created with anti-EMP protection, not a general feature as yet.

One should compare the EMP risk (which might destroy us any time within a few years) with the much noisier AGW risk which might take a generation or two to develop, if ever, to the extinction levels alleged by the AGW zealots who would be well advised to reorient the urgency of their advocacy towards grid and circuits protection.

Remnant | 24/10/2016

@Red Sage ca us (October 24, 2016)

<< There is a much higher likelihood that Miami, Gulfport, New Orleans, and Galveston will be wiped from the map before then. >>

Do you have a link, or links, to prove or document this extraordinary statement?

johndoeeyed | 24/10/2016

@Remnant
An electric grid is easily repairable. We have had them for over 100 years and flares have caused short term issues. Climate Change cannot be fixed, is long term, and will cost far more in lives and money. It is upon us now, as evidenced by the record weather disasters occurring all over the world, including in the US. You are focusing on stubbing your toe rather rather than being run over by the bus.

DonS | 24/10/2016

The electric grid as a whole is NOT easily repairable if the parts are not readily available. Spare transformers exist, but the utilities only plan for a small percentage of the giant ones to ever need replacing. If even 25% of the high voltage transformers needed replacement, we are talking lead times of months to get new transformers manufactured, and this is assuming the transformer factory can get their machinery powered.

johndoeeyed | 24/10/2016

@DonS
Grids are repaired all the time. It has been going on for over 100 years and civilisation has not ended, nor even been seriously impacted for any length of time.

Linemanap | 24/10/2016

Don't know why you think a powerwall and solar panels would not be affected just like the grid or anyother electrical device. Most utilities have large mobile substations to cover a major large transformer repair and hundreds of spare small transformers. The small coop I work for has around 25k members and we install or replace 20 or 30 in a normal week. If by some chance we took a direct CMI hit and the grid was damaged world wide then humanity would rally and life would go on. It would be the perfect opportunity to upgrade the grid most of it is over 70 years old

DonS | 24/10/2016

@johndoeeyed
Utility companies stock double or triple the spare parts they expect to need. After major regional events they can buy from other utilities to fill a parts shortfall. A grid scale event would overwhelm available spare parts, especially the unusual ones like transformers that fill a flatbed truck.

I am not saying utilities should stock enough spares for everything. It is akin to recovering from a major war, or large meteor strike, and we don't plan for those possibilities either. Money goes to prepare for things likely to happen.

Remnant | 25/10/2016

@johndoeeyed (October 24, 2016)

<< An electric grid is easily repairable. We have had them for over 100 years and flares have caused short term issues. >>

An irresponsible statement.

No repairs are possible once energy production, communications, and transportation are paralyzed.

Protection against a Carrington-Event-Size CME (none on record since July 2012) or a stratospheric nuclear explosion (N Korea already has at least two satellites in Southern orbits) consists of prevention, which involves National Defense and Home Security preparation and counter measures, as well as technological innovations, such as distributed energy production and advanced EMP shielding of energy generators and electric/electronic circuits (a certification procedure should be privately designed in this regard).

In 2008, the USA EMP Commission warned that “a high altitude nuclear explosion is one of a small number of threats that can hold our society at risk of catastrophic consequences.” If such an attack were to cause a nationwide blackout lasting as long as a year, up to 90 percent of the American people could die due to starvation, disease and societal collapse.

http://www.cnsnews.com/news/article/barbara-hollingsworth/gao-report-us-...

johndoeeyed | 25/10/2016

@Remnant
If you are worried about the electrical grid after a nuclear warhead explosion, then you should worry about far more than that.

Remnant | 25/10/2016

@johndoeeyed (October 25, 2016)

<< If you are worried about the electrical grid after a nuclear warhead explosion, then you should worry about far more than that. >>

Perhaps, at some point, you will decide to stop shoving you foot in your mouth.

Do some research on the consequences of a high altitude nuclear explosion.

Frank99 | 25/10/2016

First, DonS is right. The electric grid is repairable, but many of the largest elements of it have leadtimes measured in years. On July 4, 2004, 5 of 14 large transformers in the Phoenix WestWing substation caught fire and were destroyed; it took nearly two months to transport spares from Washington state to Phoenix to replace some of those destroyed, and nearly a year to order and receive new transformers to bring the substation back to full power. In a widespread event that destroys many transformers in many locations, there wouldn't be enough spares in North America to replace them, and the grid would be seriously impacted until new ones could be constructed.

Second, we aren't currently at much of a risk from high-altitude nuclear blasts. Yes, there are some states that could attack us that way - but them doing so is essentially the opening salvo of WWIII, and whether or not our Teslas work will be a minor question. The impact points of the other 1000 warheads heading towards the US will be of more immediate concern.
Countries like NK have the ability to create crude nuclear weapons - but NK's biggest explosions to date seem to be about Hiroshima yield levels. Should they master nuclear weapon technology, and ballistic missile technology, they would become a threat; but a high-altitude nuclear blast seems like a low probability attack vector. It would damage the civilian economy, but have almost no effect on the US military. If they wished to commit suicide with a nuclear weapon, a direct attack on, for example, Washington DC would be more likely due to the direct damage the US military and government would absorb.

JHB10 | 25/10/2016

Solar flares would only affect grids close to the poles.
I think in some cases solar flares are blamed when the real issue is lack of maintenance etc.
A telegraph system would be taken out, as it is very low voltage, unlike a transmission grid. On transmission grids solar flares causes core saturation of the magnetic fields in transformers due to induction of a DC current, but the further you are from the poles, the lower the induction. So maybe Canada, Alaska and Russia has a slight risk.

Teslas are Faraday cages - everything is in aluminium, which is a good conductor of electricity, so I think most of your electronics in the car should survive

johndoeeyed | 25/10/2016

@Remnant
Did you not understand what I meant by "If you are worried about the electrical grid after a nuclear warhead explosion, then you should worry about far more than that."?
It means that if a country is letting off nuclear warheads then there is likely to be war as well, and perhaps a nuclear war. A nuclear war is a much bigger worry than losing the grid temporarily.

Red Sage ca us | 25/10/2016

Remnant: I have about 40+ years of experience watching various hurricanes attempt to destroy those cities on an annual basis. It's bound to happen someday. Already happened to New Orleans a little over ten years ago.

Remnant | 26/10/2016

@JohanH.Botha (October 25, 2016)

<< Solar flares would only affect grids close to the poles. >>

Old knowledge, check:

http://time.com/4000560/space-weather-effect-power-grid/

georgehawley.fl.us | 26/10/2016

Having spent several years studying the potential effects of EMP on telecommunications systems in years past, I am confident that predictions of cataclysmic consequences are greatly exaggerated.

Don't know enough about solar events and their consequences to assess the possible outcomes but nothing major has come of solar activity in the past that I am aware of, although there have been some minor disruptions, I think.

brando | 27/10/2016

Internet search Starfish

1962
These man-made radiation belts eventually crippled one-third of all satellites in low Earth orbit. Seven satellites failed over the months following the test, as radiation damaged their solar arrays or electronics, including the first commercial relay communication satellite, Telstar, as well as the United Kingdom's first satellite, Ariel 1.[11][12][13][14] Detectors on Telstar, TRAAC, Injun, and Ariel 1 were used to measure distribution of the radiation produced by the tests.[15]

In 1963, Brown et al. reported in the Journal of Geophysical Research that Starfish Prime had created a belt of MeV electrons,[16] and Wilmot Hess reported in 1968 that some Starfish electrons remained for five years.[17]

georgehawley.fl.us | 27/10/2016

Bernie: Great news! Tesla as arrived in NZ! Take a test drive, if you haven't already. You will be blown away. Order one, if you have the money and the time to wait. I guarantee that neither solar flares nor EMP will affect the car.

johndoeeyed | 27/10/2016

Tesla have not quite arrived. They arrive Q2 2017 but will have test drives before then. I have already privately had a ride in a P90D. I have 2 M3 on order and may get an X as well.

Jeff Hudson | 27/10/2016

The thing I don't understand is that a truly disruptive solar flare event aimed squarely at earth would give us time to take systems off line in order to mitigate the disruption/destruction. Governments could / should warn the population what will occur and how to prepare. In fact these emergency plans should already be developed and ready to go.

brando | 28/10/2016

Max warning time about 2 hours.

They won't tell people about Atomic Power Reactor meltdowns. Consider Three Mile Island, Chernobyl and Fukushima. All governments claimed they feared causing a panic, so they didn't tell anyone. We can only hope, being a natural disaster, rather than an industrial accident, they might warn us. Surely most of the Military has a system in place. Air Lines?

Of course, I have no insider information, but I suspect they'll try to blame Russia or China, no? ;-}

nadurse | 28/10/2016

Ticobird, that may be possible but you have a much more optimistic view of government than I do, and to contradict brando I think they would have at approximately 15 or 17 hours based on the study i read. But even with that extended time, I doubt that the government would warn the citizens... maybe they would warn the utilities. But even if they were all warned within 5 hours, I highly doubt that they would just kill all the power in the US or the world and bring everyone to a halt, businesses and the populous would freak out.

First reason is that people would underestimate the impact. Or people like ^georgehawley would say well its never happened in my lifetime so whats the chances of it happening again... Little do they know that these sort of events likely take place every 100years or so by experts prediction and the last one occurred in the 1860s. So i guess what I am saying is that people would be hesitant to listen.

2nd reason is that people just simply wouldnt believe it could happen (out of ignorance or for political reasons just like climate change). Its not possible, or why should we have to worry about it if it hasnt happened yet they would say. There was a congressional hearing on this subject in the early 00's and it wasnt exactly taken seriously because people had never heard of this as a possibility before. I mean, there are still a fair amount of people out there who think the sun revolves around the earth so what are the chances that the government/people would buy all that ther science speak about dem solar flares?

brando | 29/10/2016

Sorry, I meant 2 hours min, time about 2 hours. But then read Wikipedia
"CMEs typically reach Earth one to five days after leaving the Sun."

http://www.nasa DOT gov/content/goddard/the-difference-between-flares-and-cmes

And we know photons only take about 8 min. (x-ray, gamma rays etc.)
Some of the energy released in the flare also accelerates very high energy particles that can reach Earth in tens of minutes.

One thing is the same about flares and CMEs: A fleet of NASA heliophysics observatories in space are always on the watch for these explosions. Much like how we forecast thunderstorms and rain showers, the U.S. National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration’s Space Weather Prediction Center runs simulations and can make predictions about when the CME will arrive at Earth based on this and other data. They then alert appropriate groups so that power companies, airlines, and other stakeholders can take precautions in the event of a solar storm. For example, if a strong CME is on its way—utility companies can redirect power loads to protect the grids.

Anyway, a big danger for our electronic world. Hopefully warning systems are all automated so some one doesn't try to save us from panic and prevent the warning.

I agree, a big disaster. Just consider hurricanes, for example

Remnant | 30/10/2016

@brando (October 29, 2016)

<< [Sun] photons (x-ray, gamma rays etc.) only take about 8 min [to reach Earth]. ... Some of the energy released in the flare also accelerates very high energy particles that can reach Earth in tens of minutes. ... Anyway, a big danger for our electronic world. >>

Indeed ... !!

Well said.

McLary | 30/10/2016
Jeff Hudson | 30/10/2016

Humanity has not arrived at this point of our technological development by following the average person's beliefs or intellect. Our modern society depends on electricity to function. Taking away distributed electricity results in a 21st century civilization immediately reverting to a 19th century civilization. Many people would die.

If taking the electrical grid off line for a day prevents this man-made disaster AND it is not then human civilization must deserve the consequences. Personally I do not think this is the case.

Red Sage ca us | 30/10/2016

brando: The power grid exists to support government, military, and commercial interests. That's why residential areas are the first to go dark during blackouts and brownouts. Homes are the lowest priority. So, yeah... In the advent of a solar flare that might destroy power systems, the public at large is not going to be warned of impending doom. They are not even going to be informed that this exists as a potential reality. But the public will be told that there is no relief for them afterward. This is among the reasons I believe a person should be allowed to live 'off the grid' within city limits. I wouldn't be surprised that certain government, military, and commercial interests have electronic equipment that is shielded in some way against electromagnetic events of such magnitude. And the public will be told they must foot the bill as taxpayers to repair damage to infrastructure for such a disaster.

brando | 30/10/2016

Red Sage: I agree. Damage to satellites maybe the bigger issue (note Starfish, Pacific atomic bomb testing, lost about 1/3 communication satellites. google search). Interesting times.

brando | 03/11/2016

Look for great video 3D representation of solar weather, coronal mass ejections, etc.

http://www.livescience com/56630-seeing-the-sun-like-never-before-nasa-stereo-s-top-5-wins-video.html

georgehawley.fl.us | 04/11/2016

@McLary: the EMP stuff in your reference is total BS. He calls EMP super energetic. Wrong. Nuclear EM pulses are of duration less than 50 nanoseconds. High power yes but energy? No.

Comparing solar storm events to EMP is silly. Totally different phenomena.

Remnant | 18/11/2016

@georgehawley.fl.us (November 4, 2016)

<< Comparing solar storm events to EMP is silly. Totally different phenomena. >>

Not totally!

A large, powerful EMP, causing a continent-wide outage due to massive damages to the power grids, could be a part of either, resulting in an extinction-level disruption of civilized life.

Check:
http://www.extremetech.com/extreme/186805-the-solar-storm-of-2012-that-a...

georgehawley.fl.us | 18/11/2016

Not a chance. The term EMP refers to a specific side effect of a high altitude nuclear burst. Nothing to do with solar activity that I am aware of. I didn't find EMP mentioned in the story. Not saying that it isn't possible to knock out electric power transmission lines at least temporarily but these things get hit by lightning all the time without "going back to the Stone Age." Guys who write articles like that don't really understand the protection technologies and strategies employed in power grids and jump to conclusions.

As I understand these things ( and my memory is vague on this) solar geomagnetic activity induces low frequency currents in the earth's crust. Because the earth is a relatively poor conductor of electricity, this gives rise to large differences in voltage between two distant points. If these points are spanned by wires (telegraph or power) that are very good conductors of electricity, these voltage differences can appear between a wire and local ground giving rise to sparks and outages for unprotected systems. I can't find out what "failed" in 1859. Some telegraph operators experienced electric shocks but some kept sending and receiving messages. I doubt that they had much in the way of surge protection in those days.

This is not to say that power grids can't be taken out for a while. I personally experienced the blackout in NY in November 1965. I assume that measures have been taken in the past 50 years to mitigate outages like that but I could be wrong.