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Power Companies Brace For Solar Storms 111

Posted by timothy
from the but-the-ice-cream-is-dripping-everywhere dept.
Hugh Pickens writes "Three large explosions from the sun over the past few days have prompted U.S. government scientists to caution users of satellite, telecommunications and electric equipment to prepare for possible disruptions over the next few days that could affect communications and GPS satellites, leave thousands without power for weeks to months, and might even produce an aurora visible as far south as Minnesota and Wisconsin. 'The concern is if the electric grid lost a number of transformers during a single storm, replacing them would be difficult and time-consuming,' says Rich Lordan, senior technical executive for power delivery and utilization at the Electric Power Research Institute (EPRI). The largest solar storm in recorded history was in 1859, when communications infrastructure was limited to telegraphs. Some telegraph operators reported electric shocks, papers caught fire, and the Northern Lights appeared as far south as Cuba and Hawaii. The first of the three solar explosions from the sun already passed the Earth on Thursday with little impact and the second is passing the Earth now and 'seems to be stronger.' "We'll have to see what happens over the next few days," says space weather scientist Joseph Kunches. '[The third storm] could exacerbate the disturbance in the Earth's magnetic field caused by the second (storm) or do nothing at all.'"
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Power Companies Brace For Solar Storms

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  • by dtmos (447842) * on Monday August 08, 2011 @09:01AM (#37020934)

    This range pretty much includes all Europe (except Portugal/Spain/Italy/Balkans), Russia, Mongolia, and Northern parts of China & Japan.

    This is correct, but it's not correct to assume that people in these areas can expect to see an auroral display just because one is visible in Minnesota. Auroral displays are responsive to geomagnetic [noaa.gov], not geographic, coordinates, and the geomagnetic coordinates swing south over North America and north over Asia. One would have to be above 60N (geographically) to see an auroral event in Asia visible in Minnesota at 45N.

  • Re:Excuse (Score:4, Interesting)

    by oneiros27 (46144) on Monday August 08, 2011 @10:41AM (#37022060) Homepage

    Technically, yes, it was:

    It's friday, so I get into work early, before lunch even. The phone rings. Shit!

    I turn the page on the excuse sheet. "SOLAR FLARES" stares out at me. I'd better read up on that. Two minutes later I'm ready to answer the phone.

    "Hello?" I say.

    "WHERE HAVE YOU BEEN, I'VE BEEN TRYING TO GET YOU ALL MORNING?!"

    I hate it when they shout at me early in the morning. It always puts me in a bad mood. You know what I mean.

    "Ah, yes. Well, there's been some solar activity this morning, it always disrupts electronics..." I say, sweet as a sugar pie.

    "Huh? But I could get through to my friends?!"

    "Yes, that's entirely possible, solar activity is very unpredictable in it's effects. Why last week, we had some files just dissappear from a guys account while he was working on it!"

    "Really?"

    "Straight Up! Hey, do you want me to check your account?"

    "Yes please, I've got some important stuff in there!"

    "Ok, what's your username..."

    He tells me. Honestly, it's like shooting a fish in a barrel. Twice. With an Elephant Gun. At point blank range. In the head.

    Unfortunately, the excuse doesn't work when your boss also reads BOFH, is a solar physicist, and the project scientist for three the satellites mentioned in these articles.

  • by dissy (172727) on Monday August 08, 2011 @10:44AM (#37022110)

    Not so easy to put a surge protector on that. I don't even know how you'd design an effective one at that level, much less how much it'd cost.

    For the "low" amperage lines that operate under a few thousand amps, they actually do make surge fuses rated for that amperage. They are pretty interesting, using a special mixture of basically sand. At a high enough amperage level, the sand melts into glass and expands destroying the connectivity metal and turning into a non-conductor.

    Granted, these are more like fuses than surge suppressors, and need replacing after being 'blown', but they do protect the low end transformers.

    For the very long transmission lines at high amperage however, I do not believe there are any solutions in place to handle that type of energy.

    Either way, your point stands. What we can do about the problem is very limited, and requires manual intervention with a lot of lead time.

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