Space Weather And 'Solar Maximum' Might Severely Damage US Power Grid

From National Defense Magazine:

Space weather forecasters are predicting an upswing in solar activity that may result in catastrophes on Earth.

The sun is on the upswing of an 11-year cycle called solar maximum, which is ripe for solar flares. The sun’s volatility is expected to reach an apex sometime in May 2013, said William Murtagh, a space weather scientist with the National Oceanographic and Atmospheric Administration. Scientists are racing to understand the effects its energy might have on the U.S power grids in hopes that potential cataclysm can be avoided.

At present, there is no reliable method of predicting when and if Earth will be bombarded by solar storms, or how they will affect the electrical systems on which modern man has become almost irrevocably dependent. But they happen frequently and the big one could be on its way.

“We know these events are going to occur,” Richard Andres, senior fellow at the Institute for National Strategic Studies, said Oct. 6 at a conference on severe space weather hosted by the National Defense University. “What we’ve been doing is building up electrical infrastructure for the last 50 years.”

As the nation’s power grid has become increasingly complex, little is known about what effect severe solar-generated weather would have on its reliability. Until science has answers, we’re in the crosshairs, said John Kappenman, the head of Storm Analysis Consultants, which studies solar storms.

“As a society, we are playing Russian Roulette with the sun,” Kappenman said. “If you play that game too long, you’re going to lose.”

The effects of a solar storm are varied and the people who understand them are few, Andres said. NDU’s primary mission is to act as a conduit between experts, industry and government to hit on a plan to deal with a potentially crippling solar storm. Grids are also potentially vulnerable to cyber-attacks or to manmade electromagnetic pulse weapons, but those scenarios were outside the scope of NDU’s investigation.

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