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The Truth About Solar Storms

timothy posted about 3 months ago | from the deepen-the-basement dept.

Communications 91

StartsWithABang (3485481) writes On Wednesday, The Washington Post ran a story about a very large solar flare two years ago that missed Earth, but not by too much. From a scientific point of view, what is it that happens when a solar flare interacts with Earth, and what are the potential dangers to both humans and humanities infrastructure? A very good overview, complete with what you can do — as both an individual and a power company — to minimize the risk and the damage when the big one comes. Unlike asteroids, these events happen every few centuries, and in our age of electronics, would now create a legitimate disaster.

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SOalr storms are caused by Jerry (1)

For a Free Internet (1594621) | about 3 months ago | (#47535585)

He should be more responsible and stop blaspheming. The sea anenome is a powerful creature adapted to extreme pressures and smells.

Re:SOalr storms are caused by Jerry (-1, Troll)

Anonymous Coward | about 3 months ago | (#47535719)

Nope, libtards want to turn the entire world into the third world so they create solar flares. No seriously these are caused by the science mentioned in the article, here is some truth about libtards:

Why is Slashdot full of libtards?

-Most libtards don't have jobs so they can comment on things they don't understand like energy policy all day as they don't care what the working man pays for energy as long as they feel good about controlling people for bullshit reasons like global warming.

-Slashdot posts stories about solar panels and electric cars that appeal to libtards. Libtards love to push shitty technology on everyone to jack up the price of energy so we have to live in a third world hellhole again all over bullshit global warming.

-Slashdot is very LGBTQ friendly. While this in itself is not a problem this combined with all of the libtards means that straight white men are nothing but targets and I'm fucking tired of this!

-Slashdot has the Anonymous Coward feature which means libtards can show their real racist tendencies.

-Lastly most people here love Obama who is the ultimate libtard. Even mention conservatives and you get modded until oblivion.

Are they the same Solar Storm ? (1)

Anonymous Coward | about 3 months ago | (#47536305)

I have a feeling that TFA is talking about the same Solar Storm as http://science.slashdot.org/st... [slashdot.org]

Please stop posting dupes, folks !

Re: SOalr storms are caused by Jerry (-1)

Anonymous Coward | about 3 months ago | (#47536393)

I'm a proud libtard!

Suck it bitch! Actually, don't. You'd like it too much.

Written from my comfy business class seat--I'm taking a break from exporting millions of dollars of US products to Asia to troll you back, cocksucker.

First Post (-1)

Anonymous Coward | about 3 months ago | (#47535589)

I got the first postzzzz!!!

One of many... (2, Interesting)

pubwvj (1045960) | about 3 months ago | (#47535591)

This is one of many things that causes power outages and loss of communications. In the urban areas, in the cities, people take the stability of the system for granted. Out in rural areas we live with the knowledge that the grid goes down on a regular basis and sometimes stays down for weeks. No power. No phone. No cell phone. No internet. No outside source of water, sewer, emergency services, etc. We make do. We live to survive these events. A solar storm could produce a much more significant event. People in urban areas really need to start being more prepared. The history of stability is very short.

Re:One of many... (0)

MRe_nl (306212) | about 3 months ago | (#47535673)

But Uncle Jerkov, I want go to Liberty City, in search of better life. Cousin Roman is living there with lots of money, sports cars, women and a mansion. Is better life than in Soviet Russia...

Re:One of many... (2, Insightful)

Anonymous Coward | about 3 months ago | (#47535763)

The extent to which humanity relies on central infrastructure and stability makes me very happy, because it means that there are a few critical points of failure which allow society to be broken down and rebuilt if it becomes intolerably oppressive. However, that people can do so little for themselves means they'd also fear very much for this to happen, so they'll probably put up with a lot of boot-licking before they finally decide they've had enough.

I've lived on a remote Scottish island with private everything supply, and I'm a ham, and frankly I look at utility infrastructure from water to Internet and feel underwhelmed. We whine about centralised planning "not working" because we're still stuck in opposition to the long-dead USSR, but in fact it does work providing nothing major puts a spanner in the works and special interests don't take over. A problem which could be considered technically - how to most efficiently allocate resources while at the same time not leaving tens of millions of people to die if things fuck up majorly - is instead tackled ideologically.

Re:One of many... (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 3 months ago | (#47535805)

Where I live last year we had the undersea cable get cut causing a 10 day outage of most internet and phone services. So many people really didn't know what to do with themselves. I watched so many people walking around with their cell phones sticking up hoping to pick up a signal from one of the other islands, the company I work for was one of the only companies with an independent backbone not on the cable that was cut (radio to another island), we opened up some hot spots around the building for people. Starting at 4am until after midnight people were parked around the building to get internet. There were others who left the island altogether until it was fixed.

I imagine many of these people would end up dead without electricity (which would be no internet as well) for 10 days or longer.

Re:One of many... (1)

Tablizer (95088) | about 3 months ago | (#47536557)

I imagine many of these people would end up dead without electricity

What, are they androids or something? You talk about boredom; is that what allegedly kills them?

Re: One of many... (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 3 months ago | (#47536653)

Water wouldn't come out of their taps. And since the microwave would not work there would be no food.

Re: One of many... (-1)

Anonymous Coward | about 3 months ago | (#47536923)

You are an idiot.

Re:One of many... (1)

JeffAtl (1737988) | about 3 months ago | (#47538759)

You would probably end up dead without electricity as well unless you had the firepower to seize from others.

Watch "Naked and Afraid" - without modern technology it's a real struggle to survive even in decently hospitable locations.

Humans have lived without modern technology before, but never at this population level. Also, during those times wild food was much more abundant.

Also, why do you feel that people wanting to use their phones is some sort of weakness?

Re:One of many... (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 3 months ago | (#47536729)

sewer

rural

pick one

Re:One of many... (2)

I'm New Around Here (1154723) | about 3 months ago | (#47537039)

I'd much rather live in the country than the sewer.

One of many... (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 3 months ago | (#47537933)

I know the countryside
In the countryside live the animals, good for eating and BBQing and the plants so supermarkets can sell salad as a side to the BBQs

It's MUCH MUCH worse than that (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 3 months ago | (#47540009)

Imagine: (Fukushima + Chernobyl) x 1000 x 1000

Maybe we can get the last 1000 down to 10-100 (number of plants), but it will truly suck for the next thousands of years to have them spread all around the globe and failing...

Captcha: bulked

Re:It's MUCH MUCH worse than that (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 3 months ago | (#47548545)

Thank you for demonstrating that you don't understand math, numbers or the reality of the solar storms. It is nowhere near as bad as you think. My impression is that you'll be one of the first to die because you are so scared you'll curl up in a ball and give up your little cowardly existence.

So, in other words (0, Offtopic)

CheezburgerBrown . (3417019) | about 3 months ago | (#47535599)

Hey, look at me, I have a non story about something that didn't happen 2 years ago.

Re:So, in other words (-1)

Anonymous Coward | about 3 months ago | (#47535783)

Keep trying and maybe some day you will move out of Mom's basement.

Fewer English Majors? (4, Funny)

CrimsonAvenger (580665) | about 3 months ago | (#47535609)

the potential dangers to both humans and humanities infrastructure

If the humanities infrastructure suffers, no doubt there'll be fewer English majors, and more CS majors, so it'll be a good thing, right?

Or did someone mean "humanity's infrastructure"? Yes, I know, "my people don't do editing"....

More CS Majors ... (1)

perpenso (1613749) | about 3 months ago | (#47535877)

If the humanities infrastructure suffers, no doubt there'll be fewer English majors, and more CS majors, so it'll be a good thing, right? Or did someone mean "humanity's infrastructure"?

If we get more CS majors then maybe we can update the voice recognition software to do a better job of picking between phonetically similar words using context.

Re:More CS Majors ... (1)

david_thornley (598059) | about 3 months ago | (#47539655)

If we get more English majors, maybe we can get people to type grammatically.

Hillary (0)

UziBeatle (695886) | about 3 months ago | (#47535613)

What difference, at this point, does it make??!?!

Re: Hillary (-1)

Anonymous Coward | about 3 months ago | (#47535761)

ITM

Re: Hillary (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 3 months ago | (#47536667)

None at all because the issue was avoided until aft

Another good article on this event (2)

Toam (1134401) | about 3 months ago | (#47535623)

https://theconversation.com/so... [theconversation.com]

Re:Another good article on this event (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 3 months ago | (#47537163)

So solar energy will save the planet -
by destroying the infrastructure of the
parasitic cancer of mankind.

Doomsday Chronicles (1)

rmdingler (1955220) | about 3 months ago | (#47535657)

A scenario that is purported to lead to medieval living conditions virtually overnight.

At least it's not Zombies. In fact, if you can survive the initial purge while a great percentage of survivors fight (and die) over the food & water they can find on the ground, you will stand a pretty good chance of eventually returning to civilized living.

As sad an advantage as this may seem to be, the governors will be working overtime to get back in contact with surviving taxpayers.

Re:Doomsday Chronicles (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 3 months ago | (#47537751)

A scenario that is purported to lead to medieval living conditions virtually overnight.

Fear-mongering.
Most critical facilities have spare equipment that isn't connected to the grid. Yes, it might take couple of days to get things operational again that doesn't mean that you start from scratch.
The thing that will take a lot of time is rewiring the damaged parts of the power-grid that weren't properly protected.
As long as you can get the sewage back to working condition in the urban areas most of the real problems will be averted.

Indeed...fear mongering. (1)

denzacar (181829) | about 3 months ago | (#47538139)

Done by people who either never had to go without electricity for more than 24 hours due to environmental conditions.
OR WORSE - people who went through something like that without learning anything.

Every single thing made by man has multiple fail-safes built in, which have been either designed from the start OR have been evolved into the object through generations of use.
Only it is so obvious to us that those parts should be there, we don't even see them now.

A simple thing like a container for carrying water with you, only couple of decade ago didn't have a built in system which prevents accidental opening and spilling of the contents.
A screw-on cap.
Not so long ago we used cork plugs. And breakable bottles.
Evolution and additional fail-safes.

We've been building civilizations about as long as we've been making knives or bottles.
There are fail-safes upon fail-safes built in.
From education which creates people who know how to fix and make and work things, to society control and guide systems like morality, various allegiances and duties, laws... even religion.
And that's not taking in account simple things like building infrastructure with backups, shielding and hardening - particularly the things that are build to function 24/7, 366 days a year, for at least 40-50 years.

Humans build things that WORK.
Because that is their primary function we build them for. Followed closely by "it needs to keep on working".
Built-in obsolescence had to be invented so we'd keep on spending money.
So we'd have an economy that "keeps on working" once we got it to work.

We haven't been vaporized yet (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 3 months ago | (#47535787)

I wouldn't sweat the small shit

Another ignorant fearmongering article (2, Informative)

American Patent Guy (653432) | about 3 months ago | (#47535799)

"And long, electricity-carrying wires spark, start fires and even operate and send signals when there’s no electricity! This even includes, believe it or not, when they aren’t plugged in."

In 1859, the "long, electricity-carrying wires" were telegraph wires, and there was nothing plugged into anyone's wall as suggested by the image in the article. Yes, there were large DC voltages induced in these miles-long wires: that's because they were MILES LONG. The wiring in your house and personal electronics might have a couple of millivolts induced within: something akin to the power induced when you rub your shoes on the carpet and zap them. (There's thousands of volts there: oooooh, I'm scared! NOT!)

If these solar events could induce significant voltages in meter-sized objects, then you'd have a lot to worry about. The human body is very conductive on the inside. But, I don't hear historical reports of people keeling over dead during this Carrington Event, so I'm not particularly worried about my electronics.

If you're really concerned about what's coming into your house from such a solar event, then all you need to do is walk over to the circuit breaker and turn it "OFF". You won't have power for a few hours, but that should keep you safe from any DC voltages above 150 volts.

Honestly people: your chances of being harmed by a lightning strike are much greater than this silliness.

Re:Another ignorant fearmongering article (1)

khallow (566160) | about 3 months ago | (#47535833)

I'm thinking of those long, improperly grounded chain link fences that are all over the place. There will be fried people and burning yappy dogs all over the place. It will be the End of Civilization.

Re:Another ignorant fearmongering article (1)

American Patent Guy (653432) | about 3 months ago | (#47536025)

You mean like at the U.S. / Mexico border? Wow - that could be entertaining to watch. I'll bring the soda if you'll bring the popcorn.

Seriously, though. Chain link fence is steel connected through a coating of zinc and its oxide. I think the resistance in that kind of fence would keep it from having any substantial currents being induced inside. If it were mounted on steel posts, or even wet wood ones, the fence would be grounded out. I'd be more concerned with the cable-TV wires: they're often not grounded very well and are mounted well off the earth. I can see it potentially knocking out the preamp in your TV or your personal network router.

Re:Another ignorant fearmongering article (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 3 months ago | (#47536641)

Fences are too small to be a problem.

Unless you have a fence that is insulated from the ground AND is 50-100 miles long...

Re:Another ignorant fearmongering article (2)

Aighearach (97333) | about 3 months ago | (#47536801)

All the chain link fences around here are grounded to Earth every 6ft. Obviously they're not grounded to electrical specifications, mostly because they're not intended to be electrical. Doesn't stop them from being well grounded, though.

Re:Another ignorant fearmongering article (2)

toonces33 (841696) | about 3 months ago | (#47535975)

I wouldn't rely upon the circuit breakers being able to fully protect you. If high voltages are induced on the lines, it can arc across a closed breaker. What you could do is pull the breakers out of your box - that will prevent arcing from energizing your lines, and it can also ensure that the breakers themselves aren't fried.

Re:Another ignorant fearmongering article (3, Interesting)

American Patent Guy (653432) | about 3 months ago | (#47536083)

If you've got voltages being induced on your primary wiring much higher than the peak-to-peak of the regular supply, I think you've got much bigger things to worry about.

Telegraph wiring of the 1850s was typically connected to a battery; I imagine that the voltages induced in those long wires was overloading those batteries to the point there were fires. The batteries would have been small: big enough to work the mechanism on the other end for the receiver. Today's loading would be the equivalent of thousands of such batteries; with ordinary resistive loads such as light bulbs and the kitchen stove, multiplied by the number of households having something on, the induced voltage seen at your house should be pretty close to zip.

Re:Another ignorant fearmongering article (1)

lsllll (830002) | about 3 months ago | (#47536149)

And I suppose you have calculated the magnitude of the solar storms and the voltage that will travel over lines and the distance in the breaker? How can you be sure that it won't arc across the metal underneath the breaker after you've pulled the breaker? I'm not saying it will. I'm not even saying that it'll arc across the breaker, but just saying ...

Re:Another ignorant fearmongering article (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 3 months ago | (#47536265)

If the breaker is off you are fine. When you have big transient votlage spikes (lighting, end of the world solar storm or similar) they will be looking for a return path which likely be through the earth. The clearance inside the breaker is tight but likely more than the clearance to some other grounded object in the electrical system. You should also note that in most cases the 240/120v feed to your house isn't very long, its the high voltage lines from the nearest substation to the nearest pole transformer that would be getting high(er) voltages induced into them. They are protected by fuses and lightning arresters to stop that kind of thing from happening and to protect the end user.

Re:Another ignorant fearmongering article (1)

riverat1 (1048260) | about 3 months ago | (#47536193)

Or if you own your own home just go out and pull the meter.

Re:Another ignorant fearmongering article (1)

Aighearach (97333) | about 3 months ago | (#47536805)

Generally in the US the meter is owned by the utility and home ownership isn't invoked at all.

Re:Another ignorant fearmongering article (1)

bigfinger76 (2923613) | about 3 months ago | (#47536941)

You can still yank the sucker out.

Re:Another ignorant fearmongering article (1)

riverat1 (1048260) | about 3 months ago | (#47537271)

The meter may be owned by the utility but they can't stop me from breaking the sealing wire and yanking the thing out. I've installed the things before in new buildings so I know how it works. I even doubt they'd give me much trouble over it in the event of a large solar storm.

Re:Another ignorant fearmongering article (1)

doublebackslash (702979) | about 3 months ago | (#47538217)

Came here for this, leaving satisfied.
Breaking a DC current is a hell of a lot harder than an AC current since you don't have a nice zero crossing helping you out.
Yanking the meter would give a really nice wide insulative gap AND, unlike throwing the breaker, pulling the meter disconnects not only the hot wire but also the neutral return, which would also be energized during such an event. If you didn't disconnect the neutral It seems possible that the neutral-ground tie would fry and start a nice fire inside your electrical pannel.

Just don't forget to disconnect any CATV, POTS, or other low voltage lines coming into your house as well.

Re:Another ignorant fearmongering article (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 3 months ago | (#47538399)

Unless you live miles from the service tap for your home's service, there is not going to be much of any DC on your side of the transformer stepping down the line voltage. And even at several miles, it won't be enough to burn through the neutral-ground connection (unless it was already about to fail anyway), or sustain much of an arc (I've opened switches with several amps of DC on inductive systems, and it makes a noise and is not good in the long run, but goes away quickly). POTS isn't particularly low voltage though, since it needs to handle ring voltages up to ~100 V. Although cable might depend on if there is galvanic isolation or not near by.

Re:Another ignorant fearmongering article (1)

Aighearach (97333) | about 3 months ago | (#47538937)

If you don't care who owns it, then being a home owner doesn't make a difference. You can go out and pull somebody's meter off your residence in an emergency the same regardless of if you're a home owner. Since the meter isn't yours, being a home owner makes as much difference as what you ate for breakfast.

Just be sure it is actually necessary, because the owner is a lot more likely to bill you if it was just paranoia.

Re:Another ignorant fearmongering article (1)

riverat1 (1048260) | about 3 months ago | (#47539143)

Sheesh, the cost of putting a meter back in is practically zero. A meter has spade lugs just like the cord you plug into a wall socket. You just plug it back in place to reconnect to the grid. You probably want to call the electric company to replace the seal but I doubt they'd charge you for that, especially if you had good reason to pull it in the first place.

You're right though that you don't have to be a home owner to do that.

Re:Another ignorant fearmongering article (1)

Aighearach (97333) | about 3 months ago | (#47543481)

Sheesh, the cost of putting a meter back in is practically zero.

Not once you add the fine in

Re:Another ignorant fearmongering article (1)

riverat1 (1048260) | about 3 months ago | (#47543653)

I've never heard of a fine for that.

Re:Another ignorant fearmongering article (1)

Aighearach (97333) | about 3 months ago | (#47545833)

Most states have laws against meter tampering. By "fine" I was assuming that misdemeanors of this nature will be punished by a fine + probation and not by jail time.

Some states, such as California, have a traditional intent-based law. In California you can certainly replace the meter, unless you're doing it to reduce your rate, then it is considered tampering. However, many states have a "strict liability" anti-tampering law, where it is illegal regardless of your state of mind.

I'm surprised you haven't heard of it, there have been lots of anti-utility-theft advertising campaigns in the past. I've certainly seen ones that warned people it is illegal to tamper with a meter. They usually go with the dual-threat: you can go to jail, or DIE! lol

Re:Another ignorant fearmongering article (1)

riverat1 (1048260) | about 3 months ago | (#47546417)

Meter tampering refers to bypassing the meter to get electricity without paying for it. Simply pulling the meter out is not tampering unless you replace it with a bypass mechanism. In the case of a solar storm I doubt they'd enforce the law against those who pulled the meter without evidence of nefarious intent as a preventative measure.

Re:Another ignorant fearmongering article (1)

Aighearach (97333) | about 3 months ago | (#47546555)

Often there is a security tag on the meter and you can be fined for cutting it. It depends heavily on local law.

How they respond to a storm depends partly on what the public instructions are. If there is a need to remove meters, which is highly unlikely to be needed, they will say so in advance.

Re:Another ignorant fearmongering article (1)

riverat1 (1048260) | about 3 months ago | (#47546713)

All I can say is that if I felt the need to pull the meter for safety reasons I wouldn't hesitate regardless of the law. Let the chips fall where they may.

Re:Another ignorant fearmongering article (1)

Euler (31942) | about 3 months ago | (#47537947)

DC voltages would be blocked at the transformer. The miles-long transmission lines wouldn't carry a DC voltage into your house unless the protective gear on the pole failed somehow. The transformer itself could likely overheat leaving you without power later on.

The failure mode is transformer core saturation. (5, Informative)

Ungrounded Lightning (62228) | about 3 months ago | (#47536253)

High induced votlages in open wires are a problem, but they're not the big one.

The biggie is common-mode currents in long high-voltage transmission lines adding a strong DC component to the current in the substation transformer windings - high enough that when the same-direction peak of the AC's cycle adds to it, the core saturates. Then the inductance of the transformer drops to the air-core value and no longer substantially impeeds the current.

The current skyrockets. The resistive heating of the windings (and the force on the wires from the magnetic fields) goes up with the SQUARE of the current. The windings quickly soften, distort, form shorted turns, melt, open, short out to the frame, etc. The transformer is destroyed, or committed to a self-destructive progressive failure, in just a handful of such cycles - too fast for the circuit breakers to save them (even if they DO manage to extinguish the arcs with the substantial DC component to the current.) Even if the transformer doesn't explode and throw molten metal, gigawatt sustained arcs, and burning oil (or burning-hot oil replacement) all over the substation area, it's still dead.

This happens to MANY of the giant transformers in the power grid. Each set of three transformers that has one or more failed members means a high-voltage transmission line that is shut down until the transformer is replaced.

There are essentially no spares - these are built to order. Building one takes weeks, and there are few "production lines" so little parallelism is available. What is destroyed overnight will take years to replace, while each intercity power transmission line is not functioning until the transformers at its end ARE replaced.

The current occurs because the transformers are organized in a "Y" arrangement, and the center of the Y is grounded at each end (to prevent OTHER problems). The transformers have enough extra current handling capacity to avoid saturation from the DC through that center connection to/from ground from ordinary electrical and solar storms - just not a giant one like we get every couple centuries.

The solution is to put a resistor in that ground connection, to limit the DC in the lines (and dissipate the energy it represents). Indeed, a few lines have such resistors already.

But a suitable resistor is a box about the size of one of the transformers. It's very expensive. And it only makes a substantial difference to the operation of the lines in such a once-in-centuries event. So most executives don't spend the money (and get dinged for costing the company millions) to put them in, to prevent a failure mode that hasn't happened in the generations since Tesla and Westinghouse invented the three-phase long-line power grid.

Or at least they don't until the regulators or their stockholders require it. Which means said decision-makers need a little educational push to decide it's worth the cost and get it done.

Thus articles like this. B-)

Re:The failure mode is transformer core saturation (1)

American Patent Guy (653432) | about 3 months ago | (#47536395)

I'm not an expert in this field, but I understand that the induced DC from a solar storm isn't as instantaneous as a lightning strike. It takes minutes to develop, which leaves time to disconnect the lines and affected transformers if they are properly monitored. As I understand, the induced DC is something on the order of hundreds of volts, which is much less than the tens of thousands of volts transmitted across ordinary high voltage transmission lines; disconnecting them should not result in arcing problems across the switches. It will result in thousands or millions of people going without power during the storm, but it doesn't have to destroy the electric power infrastructure if it is properly monitored and protected.

Feel free to correct my viewpoint as you may desire.

Re:The failure mode is transformer core saturation (4, Interesting)

Ungrounded Lightning (62228) | about 3 months ago | (#47537135)

... the induced DC from a solar storm isn't as instantaneous as a lightning strike. It takes minutes to develop, which leaves time to disconnect the lines and affected transformers if they are properly monitored.

But ARE they monitored for DC? It's not a usual problem.

Warnings on the order of minutes might be useful if the transmission line were the only one invoved. Unfortunately, the power grid is a GRID. Lots of multiple, parallel, transmission lines, and many, many, more going elsewhere and often creating loops.

Redundancy is a good thing in most situations. But when you have to drop a high line, and don't drop all the others simultaneously, you shift the load onto those that are still connected. When you're cutting off because you're near the limit - either due to heavy load at the time or because of the DC issue - you can drive the others beyond their limits (or throw things out of sync and add a bunch of "reactive current" to the load) and create a cascading failure. (Indeed, this is how the first Great Northeast Blackout occurred: Three of a set of four high-lines crossing the St. Lawrence Seaway near Niagra tripped out, and the redistributed load put one after another generator above its limits, blowing its protective breakers and making it progressively harder on those remaining.)

Gracefully shutting down the grid is not something you do on a couple minutes' notice, even if you have a plan in place.

As I understand, the induced DC is something on the order of hundreds of volts, which is much less than the tens of thousands of volts transmitted across ordinary high voltage transmission lines; disconnecting them should not result in arcing problems across the switches.

First, the problem with the induced near-DC is not the voltage, but the current. Transformers and transmission lines have as little resistance as possible, because it's pure loss of valuable energy. The magnetizing alternating current (i.e. the part of the AC that's there all the time, not just when there's a load) is also limited by the inductance of the transformers, but that doesn't impede the direct current at all. A couple hundred "DC" (very low frequency - fractional cycle per minute) volts, induced for minutes around the loop, can drive a hysterical amount of current.

Once the transformer is saturated, most of the damage comes, not from the direct current, but from the line power, which ends up dissipating lots of energy in the transformer. Meanwhile, at these voltages and currents, the switches that interrupt the AC are largely dependent on the momentary off time as the cycle reverses to quench the arc. If, say, the event happened when the line was running at about half its rated load, the direct current will be higher than the alternating current, so there will be no off time. This can keep the current flowing even through an open breaker (while dissipating megawats IN the breaker). Interrupting DC is MUCH harder than interrupting AC.

Heck, at these voltages even interrupting AC [youtube.com] is hard. (The video is of an interrupter where the jet of arc-suppressing gas failed for one leg.)

Re:The failure mode is transformer core saturation (1)

American Patent Guy (653432) | about 3 months ago | (#47537307)

Thank you. And now I think we agree that under your worst scenario:

1. A few transformers (but probably only one) will be fried if the effects of a solar flare aren't noticed. (Which is unlikely because the sun is being constantly monitored for flare activity.) 2. The safety features in the rest of the grid will automatically shut transmission down if/when an affected transformer fails. (A cascading failure is fine if all you care about is protecting the grid infrastructure.) 3. The voltages induced by the flare (being much lower than the ordinary AC voltages across the transmission lines) won't arc across the open safety switches and/or breakers that have tripped. 4. The entire grid will remain substantially as it was before, but perhaps down for a few hours for most people who are dependent upon the few blown transformers. 5. Civilization will not be coming to an end as suggested elsewhere in this thread.

We can argue about how much DC current will be flowing in the event that a transformer fails. But my point is that once it fails, there are safety features in the grid as it is that will protect it.

Re:The failure mode is transformer core saturation (1)

calidoscope (312571) | about 3 months ago | (#47538633)

An alternative way of minimizing the effects of a severe solar storm on the grid would be placing series capacitors on the long AC transmission lines. This is done already to increase power transfer capacity of some lines.

Since the solar flare is visible many hours before CME hits, the utilities should have time to configure the grid for the storm. The oerative word here is "should".

Re:The failure mode is transformer core saturation (1)

American Patent Guy (653432) | about 3 months ago | (#47539381)

I would be curious to see these capacitors -- they would be gigantic. Do you have a link?

Re:The failure mode is transformer core saturation (1)

calidoscope (312571) | about 3 months ago | (#47540077)

Any component for a high voltage transmission line is going to be gigantic. Google term "power transmission line series capacitors" should get you started.

Re:The failure mode is transformer core saturation (1)

American Patent Guy (653432) | about 3 months ago | (#47540181)

Well, I guess I learn something new every day. Siemens sells them to power companies: they look like they'd mount on a semi with a flatbed. The installations look like banks of those mounted on a metal framework. It looks like they've installed them into lines at about 20 sites in the world. I have little doubt that would work to stop the DC current from a solar event.

Don't ask me how much an installation costs. (The website didn't have a retail price. :-) )

Re:The failure mode is transformer core saturation (1)

calidoscope (312571) | about 3 months ago | (#47540705)

I first heard about use of series capacitors in an electric power systems class, 1H 1975, so they have been around for quite a while. It would seem to me that the caps should be able to withstand the DC potential set up by a Carrington event.

Re:The failure mode is transformer core saturation (1)

American Patent Guy (653432) | about 3 months ago | (#47540747)

The Siemens website described an installation on a 750KV line, so I'm sure you're right.

Re:The failure mode is transformer core saturation (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 3 months ago | (#47537765)

But ARE they monitored for DC? It's not a usual problem.

I can't comment on the proportion of lines that monitor for this, but quite a few of the bigger lines due monitor DC voltage through the transformer because they already have to deal with the effects of much smaller magnetic storms (or a few setups with a rare fault that can generate DC), and will have it be part of the breaker tripping system. But even without that, as the transformer starts to saturate, they will start tripping AC current limits too.

Re:The failure mode is transformer core saturation (2)

Hartree (191324) | about 3 months ago | (#47536957)

Or, the grid operators could monitor space weather information. (Which they do.)

We have multiple satellite systems (ACE, SOHO, STEREO, etc.) that can detect CMEs nearly as soon as they happen. The travel time to earth, even for the Carrington Event was 18 hours.

With an even shorter warning, you can do a lot to minimize damage.

In that time, you can declare nationwide power emergencies, shed load and shut down vulnerable systems.

Yes, it's ugly and takes time to come back up, but it's a lot better than zapping the whole long distance transmission system.

Much of the really critical infrastructure can disconnect and run on internal generators.

Are there places that will get caught by it? Sure. Will it be a major pain in the kiester? Of course. But it'll hardly be the "Collapse of Civilization"(tm).

Re:The failure mode is transformer core saturation (1)

rolias (2473422) | about 3 months ago | (#47538409)

True, but only one of those - ACE - provides definitive storm strength and arrival time, by sampling the solar wind directly upstream of Earth for magnetic field & plasma properties (density, speed, and temperature). SOHO and STEREO let you know that something left the sun using imagery and estimate the arrival time. All of those are old NASA satellites long past their design lives, and never intended as reliable weather forcasting assets. The Deep Space Climate Observatory (DSCOVR) will take over for ACE next year.

Grid operators respond by reducing the output of baseload power plants (nuclear, coal, etc.) and bringing up small local generators (e.g. natural gas) to reduce the load on long distance transmission lines and their transformers. That is sufficient for the more common small events. Probably not for events like Carrington and the May 1921 geomagnetic storm, but at least they will be in a position to respond. The big danger would to be blindsided because the government couldn't get their act together enough to fund reliable forecast & warning systems. The worst events can take as little as 18 minutes from a satellite at L1 to Earth.

Re:The failure mode is transformer core saturation (1)

Jim Sadler (3430529) | about 3 months ago | (#47539237)

I suspect that a wiser society would have a bunch of transformers built and in storage. These days it is not only solar storms that might wreck us. The military apparently has E bombs that wipe out electronics as well as power lies. That means that an enemy will probably also have e bombs at its disposal. One unit is a miniature designed to be used in cop cars that can be aimed at a car that refuses to stop and hit it with a focused wave of power that destroys the cars electronics and brings it to a stop. The device works and hes been demonstrated but needs more work to make it convenient to install in squad cars.

Re:The failure mode is transformer core saturation (1)

david_thornley (598059) | about 3 months ago | (#47539685)

The current best way to make a large EMP, which is what we're looking for, is to burst a large thermonuclear bomb high over the target. That's going to have a whole lot of other consequences, and the people launching it are in real trouble.

Re:The failure mode is transformer core saturation (1)

delt0r (999393) | about 3 months ago | (#47542583)

The current skyrockets...

And all the breakers and other fail safes kick in (I have seem thermal trips on some). The transformer is saved. Even with the last event only *one* large transformer failed and that was because the breakers failed. Oh and it was fixed/replaced routed around in just 9 hours. There was no "wait for a new one on order for weeks".

Re:Another ignorant fearmongering article (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 3 months ago | (#47536625)

It isn't DC that is generated, but wildly varying frequencies of AC.

The induced currents on the cross country power lines cause the substations distribute the wildly varying frequencies of AC, at varying power levels...

This continues all the way to the home.

Re:Another ignorant fearmongering article (1)

American Patent Guy (653432) | about 3 months ago | (#47536695)

In order to do that, the solar flux would have to reverse at the frequencies of the induced AC you theorize. It don't do that, man.

Re:Another ignorant fearmongering article (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 3 months ago | (#47537813)

Look at typical geomagnetic storm recordings of magnetic field, and you will see the time scale of changes in magnetic field is on the order of minutes to hours. Even down to timescales of a few seconds would look effectively like DC signals to stuff designed for 50 or 60 Hz. Of course on some scale it is AC because it is an induced field and changes with time, but the impact once induced looks the same as if it were DC.

Already ahead of you brother (5, Funny)

Austrian Anarchy (3010653) | about 3 months ago | (#47535835)

I saw a great documentary on this by Lucasfilms called "Howard the Duck" and I am prepared. Sure, they phonied it up a little bit, but the basics work for solar storms too. My Quackfu is second to no man!

Sure, the wires are miles long (1)

russotto (537200) | about 3 months ago | (#47536063)

But you don't have mile-long runs between towers. Induce enough voltage and you'll arc across the insulators to the support structure and ground the surge that way. There's also arc-horns and other things meant to handle breakdown in a more controlled fashion than arcing across the insulator itself.

Re:Sure, the wires are miles long (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 3 months ago | (#47536287)

Stop that, this is slashdot, there will be no informed expression of opinion here!

The Paranoid May Survive (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 3 months ago | (#47536273)

Their tinfoil will finally come in useful to wrap electronic devices to isolate them from stray fields.

Power? (1)

tquasar (1405457) | about 3 months ago | (#47536353)

I don't need your stinkin' power. RV in the driveway? Check 100 gallons water? Check. Two generators? Check. Me? Czech.

Re: Power? (1)

Anonymous Coward | about 3 months ago | (#47536699)

Be careful, because your Slovak neighbor has a baseball bat.

A legitimate disaster? (1)

Anonymous Coward | about 3 months ago | (#47536371)

Don't worry. If it's a legitimate disaster, our society has ways to shut that whole thing down.

No respect for them (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 3 months ago | (#47536379)

At what point do agencies like the FBi, CIA, etc... think the general public will just stop paying attention to them and their demands? These agencies have become such a joke, it is actually hard to take anything they say or do seriously anymore.

Fear-mongering bullshit (1)

evilviper (135110) | about 3 months ago | (#47536839)

these events happen every few centuries, and in our age of electronics, would now create a legitimate disaster.

Bullshit. The biggest problem with solar flares was its negative effect on shortwave communications. Before satellites and numerous transatlantic fiber-optic cables, that was the dominant form of military and civilian communications across large distances.

If WiFi was 30MHz, then yeah, solar flares would seriously disrupt modern communications. Since it's 2.4 or 5GHz, you'll barely notice.

The effects on the electric grid are serious and notable, but we all have to be prepared for power outages that are far more frequent, from far more mundane causes, anyhow, so one extra blackout every century and a half, isn't a good reason to ring the alarm bells.

you are literally taking your life into your hands if you do not shut down and unplug all of your electronic devicesâS

Yeah, that *might* be a risk, if nobody, anywhere, had surge protectors on their critical electronic devices.

Most consumers don't have super long runs of wire, and those who do overwhelmingly have them properly grounded, due to the much more common risk of lightning, rather than specifically for solar flares.

"complete" overview... (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 3 months ago | (#47536899)

Slashdot has reached rock bottom with the stories lately.

Son I think you should unplug the PV array... (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 3 months ago | (#47536911)

What all of it?

Yep, all of it.

http://goo.gl/maps/OWORL

Inconstant Moon (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 3 months ago | (#47537127)

famous Larry Niven short story about a big solar flare and its effects.

Incessant medium.com spam (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 3 months ago | (#47537327)

how I have missed thee, oh invaluable source of links to unreadable websites.

Remote signalled disconnect switches. (1)

Eravnrekaree (467752) | about 3 months ago | (#47537911)

This problem seems to be easily solvable by installing electronic cut-off switches near the transformers throughout the entire system. These switches could be remotely triggered by some in-band means, at least, such as an pulsing of the electrical current. This would protect homes and businesses as well as the power company infrastructure and it would seem would be a relatively inexpensive, cheap piece of electronics that could be widely deployed throughout the grid. When a solar flare is detected that would hit, the switches would be activated through the signalling. This would throw disconnect switches on each side of the unit. The switches could be turned back on with a pole later on when the event is over. Yes, this would temporarally bring down the electrical grid, but bringing it down for a few hours or days is a heck of a lot less of a problem than it being out for months.

Re:Remote signalled disconnect switches. (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 3 months ago | (#47538487)

These switches could be remotely triggered by some in-band means, at least, such as an pulsing of the electrical current.

Or they could be triggered locally by current exceeding set limits, and you have a circuit breaker, like is already on a lot of systems. They can even work in geomagnetic storms, like in the 1989 storm that cut off power from Quebec Hydro, because it tripped a breaker that was reset as soon as the storm was over.

SYFI guy (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 3 months ago | (#47614265)

The scifi guy in me thinks that after the singularity, skynet & carbon-based life forms enter a symbiotic relationship, where AI protects the planet & organic life from asteroid strikes; and Organics protect the planet & AI from solar flares and electric storms.

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