Do We Need to Protect Grid From Sunstorms?

Officials clash over whether to upgrade system
By Rob Quinn,  Newser Staff
Posted May 15, 2012 3:56 AM CDT
Updated May 15, 2012 4:14 AM CDT
Regulators worry that power companies aren't doing enough about the threat from solar storms.   (AP Photo/NASA)

(Newser) – The peak in the 11-year cycle of solar flares happens next year, but electricity regulators have made little progress in deciding how much protection the power grid needs, the Wall Street Journal finds. They are reviewing records as far back as the 1859 "superstorm," the strongest solar storm ever recorded, to determine how quickly the system needs to be upgraded. A storm much weaker than the 1859 event caused most of Quebec to lose power, and some experts believe that a worst-case solar storm scenario could see American cities lose power for days or even weeks.

"This is arguably the largest natural-disaster scenario that the nation could face," says one consultant, but most in the industry say the consequences of a superstorm would be less severe. Installing blocking devices on transformers would protect the grid, but at a cost of hundreds of millions of dollars. Power company officials say they are assessing the risk, but consumers will want to see proof that an immediate investment is necessary to ward off danger before they will accept paying higher prices. Despite warnings of catastrophic storms, this solar cycle has been an unusually quiet one so far.

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