Power grid cut worries flaring over solar flares

This is quite alarming, but as Dr. Leif Svalgaard explained in his email tip to me, “…in this case, probably justified”.

Here’s the story from the Independent:

Officials in Britain and the United States are preparing to make controlled power cuts to their national electricity supplies in response to a warning of a possible powerful solar storm hitting the Earth. In an interview with The Independent, Thomas Bogdan, director of the US Space Weather Prediction Centre, said that controlled power “outages” will protect the National Electricity Grids against damage which could take months or even years to repair should a large solar storm collide with the Earth without any precautions being taken.

The aim of the joint US-UK collaboration is to improve solar weather forecasting to a point where it is possible to warn power companies of an imminent storm. There is a feeling that if a “category 5″ solar storm – the biggest of the five categories – were to be predicted, then taking the grid off-line before it is due to hit Earth and letting the storm pass would be better than trying to keep things running, he said.

Read the full story at the Independent here, they say they Met Office will be involved.

Of course, so far, the sun has been a bit of a limp noodle, but even a weak head-on CME aimed at Earth can wreak havoc with the dainty micro-electronics we use these days. Even though the overall solar activity has been low, we have witnessed impressive flares, such as this one on June 7th and this one on Feb 14th: Sunspot group 1158 produces an X class solar flare.

For some people the world would end if their computers or personal telecommunications were solar deep fried, so this is probably a good idea. Of course, with the Met Office track record for terrestrial forecasting, I worry they’ll forecast a “BBQ solar event”, nothing will happen, and then nobody will pay attention when it really counts the next time. Let’s hope it doesn’t become the boy who cried Wolf numbers.

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76 Responses to Power grid cut worries flaring over solar flares

  1. TrueNorthist says:

    It is interesting that “The Sun Today” announced very early on that they didn’t think this event will be any cause for alarm. I would be curious what exactly made them change their minds. Not that I think warnings like this are a bad idea… On the contrary, I think it long past due. Just curious.

    Cheers!

  2. Ross says:

    No need to worry – Kiehl & Trenberth showed the sun is too weak to affect earth much – the much larger radiation emanating from earth will easily repel the puny incoming radiation.

  3. charles nelson says:

    On the Armagh Observatory site you can see and read the actual hand written comment made by Mr Carrington as he took the readings on that evening in 1869.

  4. crosspatch says:

    What bothers me is that this was only an M2.5 event. Pretty “run of the mill”. It *looked* huge because we were looking at it with imaging technology we didn’t have before. So if we are going to do planned power cuts for M2.5 events, what are we going to do for an M5 event or even an X class event?

    M class events don’t even make it into the list of powerful events. The top 15 events start at X9.0

    If we are going to start shutting down the power grid for M class flares, there’s something really, really, wrong with our infrastructure.

  5. jack morrow says:

    Guess it’s time to spend a little of Obama’s “stash” on this problem, and it is something to try to prepare for. But- we are too busy with trying to hide the Weiner to consider anything important right now.

  6. Bruce says:

    The real problem is that there is no great stockpile of transformers sitting around to replace the ones that could get fried. It might be months or years to replace them all. And they are made in Asia, not the USA.

  7. Nick says:

    The Met Office? Your joking yeh?

  8. GaryP says:

    I believe the damage is caused by long period massive changes in the magnetic field. This causes large effectively DC currents to flow through long distance power lines that form a loop that sees a large change in the total flux passing through the loop. The DC current saturates the magnetic cores of the transformers so they no longer work effectively and they overheat. I believe it is the generated power that causes the damage and not the dc current itself. Shutting down the lines should be enough, but if the dc currents are large enough then the loop has to be opened to prevent damage.

    I don’t believe there would be damage to local electronics except from brownouts. This is not like a EMP pulse where a extremely fast rise time causes large voltages to fry electronics before arcing and protective circuits can suppress the pulse induced on even short wires.

  9. kramer says:

    This is yet another news article about the sun causing these types of things that I have read over the last year or so. I find that interesting…

  10. Max Hugoson says:

    Utter, complete, RUBBISH!

    Does anyone have ANY idea of what the INTENSITY of a lightning bolt hitting the power lines is like?

    You know, when the light’s FLICKER during TS’s???? That’s 1,000,000 amp bolts hitting power lines and temporarily causing a GROUND FAULT.

    Rarely does the bolt induce a current into the lines. (Usually only locally.)

    Substations and 345, 161, 41, 22 and 4 KV lines (Did I miss any level?) have all sorts of protections on overvoltage, current spikes, etc.

    Now a massive solar flare MIGHT, just MIGHT put a big enough spike out to cause damage to some PC’s and electronics. Much of which WOULD BE DAMAGED IF THE POWER WAS OFF, if the spike is big enough to jump insulated connections.

    There are things called SURGE protectors (I have several..) and they don’t really care if the spike is from:
    1. A power system fault.
    2. A lightning bolt
    3. A solar flare.

    This is another Y2K.

  11. Big Al says:

    Strong solar events are rare, but they do happen. The Carrington event was a long time ago.
    That being said, there was a solar storm in 1989 that took down the Quebec power system. One of the reasons it happened is that the ground in the Canadian Shield area is conductive and allowed heavy currents to flow into the power lines. This is one problem.
    The other problem is the GPS system. It is a weak signal but I’m sure the satellites are hardened against radiation impulses. So the satellite may survive, but the signal would be worthless.
    The problems with GPS bother me , at of this time the FAA is making a push to go to 100% GPS navigation for all aircraft. With no backup, a Carrington event would be a disaster for aviation!.

  12. rbateman says:

    It is my understanding that rock formations become induced and flow from one type to another (igneous to sedimentary?) in a Carrington Event. What is troubling about a very low activity Sun (like we have now) is that the flux continues to climb while other phenomena lag behind. I don’t know why it’s doing this, but it makes me think that energy is being held back that might result in a really big pop.

  13. Crispin in Waterloo says:

    Max, I think the average lightning strike is about 20,000 amps – that is what the distribution hardware is geared to handle – and it usually does.

    Flares are quite capable of creating EMP-like voltage spikes. A friend of mine worked for years at NOAA programming a satellite that watches for incoming flares and her office issues warning to commercial operators of satellites. The practise is to shut them down and sometimes turn them in a ‘protected mode’ direction to prevent damage. The warnings are a fee-for-service that NOAA operates. The warnings are graded and taken seriously in the sky and on the ground.

  14. Anything is possible says:

    In the event of a really huge solar flare, such as the Carrington event of 1859, this would probably be a sensible precaution.

    However, the cynic in me can’t get past the vision of the authorities wetting their pants every time something stronger than a “C”-class flare is observed, especially if shutting down the grids would help them meet their CO2 emissions targets…..

  15. AncientOfDays says:

    If we are going to be hit by the effects of a large solar event, we certainly ought to find out about it. The only problem is that I can’t discover what that event might be. TrueNorthist properly points us to The Sun Today site and the last entry I find there is for 6/7/2011, a bit old to give us much trouble and that was not a particularly powerful flare. http://www.thesuntoday.org/category/current-observations/

    Solarham.com has some good graphics and they show that on 6/14 0005 UTC there was a B class flare, the smallest of solar flare potatoes and no danger to earth.
    http://solarham.com/index.htm

    Spaceweather.com lists a Class B flare and a more energetic Class C for 6/13 and might be talking about the same flare as solarham.com above. Not exactly civilization-destroying stuff.
    http://www.spaceweather.com/

    Lastly, NOAA does not suggest anything unusual happening on the sun. Their bulletin 6/13/2011 2200 UTC says, in part:
    “Solar Activity Forecast: Solar activity is expected to be very
    low for the next three days (14 – 16 June) with a chance for an
    isolated C-class flare.”
    http://www.swpc.noaa.gov/forecast.html

    As pointed out above we are receiving benign B and C class activity. Astronomers grade solar flares in ascending order as B, C, M, and X. X class flares and their associated events make the sparks pop and destroy things. So, what is this business with the Independent’s report of “controlled power cuts” “in response to a warning of a possible powerful solar storm hitting the Earth” I sure would like to know because as nearly as I can tell not much is going on. For what it is worth, I eventually expect the Earth to catch another whopper solar event such as the 1859 Carrington X-class event and we won’t like it when it happens. I don’t this is it. So, what’s going on? Has the Independent fallen off the pier and hit its head? Is there something going on that our legislative representatives have neglected to tell us? Or is the Independent piece just a hypothetical with an unfortunate headline?

  16. rbateman says:
    June 13, 2011 at 8:24 pm
    What is troubling about a very low activity Sun (like we have now) is that the flux continues to climb while other phenomena lag behind. I don’t know why it’s doing this, but it makes me think that energy is being held back that might result in a really big pop.
    It may simply mean that the energy is still being released, but that the conditions that concentrate the magnetic field into visible spots is operating less efficiently.

  17. Nev Turner says:

    EVERY system in an aircraft that has a critical function has a backup. GPS is just one of several inputs into an aircraft navigation system. The basic input of the system is inertial navigation, which is completely independent of either GPS or ground based systems.

    The quality of the GPS information is constantly monitored and predicted, and if it is suspect it is rejected and an alternative source is selected.

    GPS navigation without backup is not going to happen any time soon in modern jet transport aircraft.

  18. pochas says:

    Nothing like keeping the populace alarmed (and hence clamorous to be led to safety). I think it is irresponsible to be raising such alarms without consulting the power companies, who have engineers whose opinions might be of interest. I’ll bet they have already evaluated this and the authors of the present work didn’t bother to find out. Ready, shoot, aim…

  19. crosspatch says:

    If we were to have another Carrington event we would have bigger problems than people’s electricity cut — like people’s telephones and televisions catching fire.

    But this is a rather small event. There must be some other reason to want to cut power, maybe as some kind of exercise. This solar flare was a medium sized event, not the “monster” flare that the media has played it up to be. There were 13 M-class flares in Feb 2011 and 21 of them in March. Both months saw X class flares. So we have a smallish M-class flare that *might* make a glancing blow on Earth. So far this month the largest is M2.

    There’s something more than meets the eye here.

  20. tesla_x says:

    Gents,
    Here is your evening reading with a nightcap (sip).
    http://www.empcommission.org/docs/A2473-EMP_Commission-7MB.pdf

  21. crosspatch says:

    The Quebec flare was an X19. In comparison, that flare was 76 times larger than this M2.5. There is no comparison between the Quebec flare and this one.

    During the Carrington event, telegraph operators between Boston and Portland disconnected their batteries and used only “auroral current” for two hours in transmitting telegraph signals across the US. The “northern lights” were visible in Panama. The flare of October 2003 was an X28 and was still smaller than the Carrington event. That one was the largest observed during the space age.

    Such flares probably happen fairly frequently. We know this because we have seen them. If they were rare, they probably wouldn’t have read about them.

  22. Myrrh says:

    Controlled exercise in destroying communication.

  23. Ric Werme says:

    Past links to the Carrington event are important, http://wattsupwiththat.com/2008/05/07/a-reminder-to-us-flyspecks-on-an-elephants-butt/ is a good one.

    Oh good, found and still online. http://www.spacew.com/gic/index.html has a photo of a transformer failure from the 1989 event that was so disruptive in Canada and brought one of the best auroral displays I’ve seen. This story has photos of damage to a single-phase generator step-up transformer at the Salem (New Jersey) Nuclear Generating Station.

    Max Hugoson says:
    June 13, 2011 at 7:06 pm

    > This is another Y2K.

    No – these sorts of transformers generally don’t have spares back at the factory, and there are few places that can wind them. That’s where the months to years to repair estimates come from.

  24. crosspatch says:
    June 13, 2011 at 9:00 pm
    There’s something more than meets the eye here.
    Like ensuring continued funding…

  25. RichyRoo says:

    could be like the Internet ‘kill switch’, the government want to be able to switch off the means of resistance? Maybe they really are idiots? I mean absent a Carrington event this is pointless, our grids have withstood 100 years of solar flares without major problems.

  26. nc says:

    I am a retired power system dispatcher. The issue is mainly with east west lines, the flux cutting across them. In British Columbia I was on shift one night when there was a solar flare which caused issues on the 500 KV line from Prince George to Terrace running west, high amperage with some protection operations or tripping of lines. In Quebec they had some major outages. We would get warnings of pending solar flares.

  27. Andrew30 says:

    crosspatch says: June 13, 2011 at 5:46 pm
    [If we are going to start shutting down the power grid for M class flares, there’s something really, really, wrong with our infrastructure.]

    Hmm, what might be wrong with the UK electrical infrastructure?
    How about thousands of huge coils of wire on top of 100 meter towers, in straight rows, connected to every computer in the country. That kind of infrastructure might do poorly in even a minor event?

    Of course no one would actually deploy such a sensitive system, would they?
    That would be a stupid long term plan, wouldn’t it?

  28. John says:

    Why are we reading about this now? The sun hasn’t been this quiet for 100 years. It was far more active from the late 1940′s to the early 2000′s. The decades of “Global Warming”. This cycle is extremely quiet. Again, given this, why are we reading this hype now? What new bit of propaganda can we expect now that the horrors of Global Warming have been shown to be government financed propaganda?

  29. noaaprogrammer says:

    If my electricity goes off, my UPS kicks in, keeping the computers running. Should I develop Y2.011K-compliant hardware to replace my dainty electronics?

  30. Pete H says:

    Nev Turner says:
    June 13, 2011 at 8:55 pm
    “The basic input of the system is inertial navigation, which is completely independent of either GPS or ground based systems.
    GPS navigation without backup is not going to happen any time soon in modern jet transport aircraft”

    Point taken Nev and my expertise is marine rather than aircraft but inertial navigation involves dead reckoning and a disadvantage of dead reckoning is that new positions are calculated solely from previous positions, the errors of the process (currents/wind etc )are cumulative, so the error in the position fix grows with time and each reading.

    GPS has certainly “dumbed down” pleasure sailors and it makes me wonder how pleasure pilots stand up.

  31. gacooke says:

    I get my up-to-the-date solar weather news here:
    http://www.solarham.com/

  32. crosspatch says:

    Leif Svalgaard says:
    Like ensuring continued funding…

    Exactly that crossed my mind and I posted it in some website, I think it was in possibly the UK. The notion was something along the lines of “why all this fuss over a middling flare that we have had dozens of so far this year, is someone’s project in danger of losing its funding?”.

    Usually when I see some molehill metamorphosis going on, it is because someone’s funding cycle is coming to and end and they need to show how “valuable” it is. So they pay someone to “wow” the public with some pretty graphics and some ominous warning that the project must be continued lest we become defenseless against .

    There is nothing “humongous” or “gargantuan” or even “unusual” about this flare. We generally get tens of them every month at this stage of a solar cycle. Folks are being taken for a ride.

    Now, that was a great point raised above about coils on top of towers and all that. But why weren’t the flares in February or March worrisome enough to cut the power? We had more of them and they were larger. Something smells funny about all this.

  33. Luboš Motl says:

    After 2 years, we had a blackout on Saturday – for an hour. It sucks! I found out that most of the trolley bus drivers had an “alternative” source of energy (fossil fuels). When the computers and TV didn’t work, I wanted at least to vacuum the room. You won’t believe me. It didn’t work, either! :-)

    This is like the quote by the Slovak Greenpeace boss. She says that she didn’t need electricity because burning candles provided her with enough light while watching TV. :-)

    I am sure that if the electricity were disappearing often, people would be eager to throw other people from the window in order to fix the situation.

  34. crosspatch says:

    Oops, part of that got cut out because I used angle brackets. Should have been:
    the project must be continued lest we become defenseless against [ near earth asteroids, magnetic field decay, solar flares, global warming, etc ]

  35. Peter Jones says:

    It’s interesting that the Sun’s behavior is so profound on our communications and power grid while we’re told that it is not the big driver of the changing climate.

  36. Claude Harvey says:

    As a retired electric power engineer I am delighted to see this issue taken seriously. In the 19th century, a massive flare welded telegraph keys with the resulting voltage induced on telegraph lines. Today, such an event would fry power transformers that are very long lead items for replacement. The possibility of fried satellites in an era of total dependence on them for our daily financial transactions is truly Draconian. There are lots of foolish worries in this world, but concern over this possibility is not one of them. As I understand it, there have been a number of such catastrophic flares over the past century and it has been our simple good luck that those flares were not focused in the earth’s direction.

  37. LdB says:

    To max and a few other as some people pointed out the damage to the tranformers is usually overheating you know fast moving charge flow, long stationary wire, right hand rule produces DC current sound familiar? As they said it saturates the core and it can overheat transformer much different effect to lightning strike which is high intensity but very brief and usually easily dealt with by the avalanche arrestors. The effect with events is well covered in http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Geomagnetic_storm

    Of coarse a clever transformer designer and power company would have wound two reverse coils on the transformer core and fed two roughly equal length runs of wire so the effect was completely zero’ed out in the core simplicity never was either of these peoples strong point.

    Wave to Lubus .. strange place to see you posting.

  38. sibeen says:

    I don’t see how a lot of people here are jumping up and down about closing down for a M2.5 event when the article specifically refers to a M5 event.

    As for ‘frying our dainty electronics’, again I see no reference to an EMP in the article. Geomagnetic storms can cause huge problems for the electricity grid, especially in the higher latitudes, so taking preventative measures seems like a damm fine idea.

  39. Gene Nemetz says:

    OMG, just like Y2K!

    ;O)

  40. UK Sceptic says:

    The undying climate alarmist Met Office wants us to reduce our energy consumption whatever the cost to the individual or the nation and we’re going to hand them the off switch?

    How stupid is that?

  41. Massimo PORZIO says:

    GaryP said @ June 13, 2011 at 6:03 pm:
    “I believe the damage is caused by long period massive changes in the magnetic field. This causes large effectively DC currents to flow through long distance power lines that form a loop that sees a large change in the total flux passing through the loop. The DC current saturates the magnetic cores of the transformers so they no longer work effectively and they overheat. I believe it is the generated power that causes the damage and not the dc current itself. Shutting down the lines should be enough, but if the dc currents are large enough then the loop has to be opened to prevent damage”
    I don’t believe that, because any power line has three conductors having currents phase-shifted 120° between them. An equal external induced current to the three conductor has no effect on the transformers because it is in-phase on each conductor.
    The only dangerous current is the one that in case could flow through the three power lines and the ground.
    About Carrington’s event: it affected the telegraph lines because they were one-wire long lines, so the induced surge flown through the ground of the transmitter and the receiver sides.

  42. sibeen says:

    Massimo, it is a DC current that is induced into the grid. Transformers really don’t like DC being injected into them and have a tendency to overheat, explode, melt down. Not what you really want to happen when getting a replacement may take months.

  43. Leon Brozyna says:

    $$$$$

    Studies will be done, plans will be made, and SOP’s (Standard Operating Procedures) written for what to do in the event of a Carrington-type event. And, in several decades or a century, when such an event does happen, all those out-of-date SOP’s will be setting gathering dust in ops centers all over the place while transformers melt down. And, after experiencing blackout conditions that last months and years instead of hours or days, the finger-pointing will commence.

    Human nature is so predictable.

  44. Hans Åström says:

    The problem is the Geomagnetically Induced Currents (GIC) in long High Voltage transmission lines. This problem is mainly existing at high latitudes North and South, mainly in the areas affected by the Aurora Oval or generally 45 – 90 degrees. The aurora ovals are excentric in relation to the geographical poles because the magnetic poles are not coinciding with the geographical poles and further the solar wind is “pushing” the aurora ovals to the opposite side (i.e. the dark side) of the earth. Thus the aurora oval can reach as far south as 30 degrees in NA but seldom below 40 – 45 degrees in central Asia.
    The aurora and auroral currents are the result of the charged particles ejected from the sun during flares and CME:s, caught into the Earths’ magnetic field, especially if those mass ejections are directed straight towards the Earth.
    The Auroral currents are fluctuating in strength and direction and thus influences the magnetic field of the earth which in turns induces sub-Hertz (or Quasi-DC) currents (GIC) in long transmission lines terminated at their ends into transformers with an earthed neutral. The sub-Herz current flowing through all phases simultaneously will magnetise the core of the transformer in one direction unsymmetrically and force the core into saturation every second half cycle of the AC, the cycle that generate flux in the same direction as the GIC. This will heavily increase the magnetising current and magnetising losses in the transformer core, in the worst case even overheating the core, maybe to the point where gas is developing in the oil at hot-spots and force the gas-relay to trip the transformer. Some designs like shell-type-, five-legged three-phase cores and banks of single-phase transformes are more prone to the phenomena that three-legged cores where the sub-Herz flux because of the common-phase (zero-sequence) nature of the GIC, has to close outside the core.
    Although the GIC:s may not be large enough to cause overheating of the core, the assymmetry of the increased magnetising current will contain large numbers of harmonics causing distortion of the voltages and may cause false triggering by other protection equipment.
    The problem can be remedied by temporarily increase the earthing impedance at the neutral earthing point or even temporarily disconnect the neutral if possible. Large serial capacitor banks in the transmission line is the best remedy for GIC.
    Latest aurora plots here: http://www.swpc.noaa.gov/pmap/Plots.html
    Watch out for GIC:s when the activity level is 10 and power in excess of 150 GW

    Hans
    OH6MY

  45. Kevin says:

    Wait. I thought the sun just went silent. Don’t solar flares only happen on sunspots?

  46. Jimbo says:

    The proposed power outages should have the desired effect of opening people’s eyes to the potential future that awaits them.

  47. Cold Englishman says:

    Met Office stealing your wallet again!

  48. stephen richards says:

    Two things, you do not want any of the plonkers at the UK Met involved in anything to do with weather, solar or otherwise. second, at what point does the controlled outage become truly necessary and therefore not worse than the uncontrolled one. and yes I know all about saving transformers. In this part of France we turn off the local grid during violent thunderstorms to save the line and transformers but it is well controlled. Goes off in each section as the storm arrives and goes on again section by section as the storm departs. However, this has not prevented damage completely and I can’t see anyone associated with the US and UK government being capable of such radical thinking.

  49. John R. Walker says:

    Based on past performance I wouldn’t let the UK Met Office predict anything important and, still less, would I want anybody to act upon their predictions. This will be like the cock-up over volcanic ash – they got it wrong but screwed up millions of people’s lives anyway… Turning the grid off using the same mantra will kill people – usually the wrong people…

  50. Robin Guenier says:

    Hmm – so Max Hugoson thinks this is “another Y2K”? Well, Y2K was a real enough problem – largely fixed by a lot of boring hard work.

  51. dave 1264 says:

    “The problem can be remedied by temporarily increase the earthing impedance at the neutral earthing point or even temporarily disconnect the neutral if possible. Large serial capacitor banks in the transmission line is the best remedy for GIC.”

    It would need to be a very large capacitor to withstand the potentially large DC potential. You would not want to be near it if the DC breakdown voltage was exceeded allowing the total charge to be explosively released.
    Another possibility would be to insert large (L) chokes across the transformer. Either approach would be very expensive.

  52. Les Francis says:

    Kevin says: June 14, 2011 at 1:54 am
    Wait. I thought the sun just went silent. Don’t solar flares only happen on sunspots?

    They can happen any time.

    Jimbo says: June 14, 2011 at 2:01 am
    The proposed power outages should have the desired effect of opening people’s eyes to the potential future that awaits them.

    I agree. Softening us up for future outages caused by “alternative energy” failures.

  53. John Marshall says:

    Never mind the solar flare problem. The National Grid in the UK have today stated that wind power is so erratic that they cannot cope with rapid inputs so turn the turbines off. This puts more reliance on Fossil Fuel producers, which is as it should be.

  54. Hans Åström says:

    To dave 1264
    There are such capacitor banks already in use to reduce the effects of the GIC and also in order to enhance the power angle of long transmission lines and thus increase the transmission capacity, expensive, yes, but the payback time is short.
    http://www.nokiancapacitors.com/documents/03%20-%20products/systems/EN-CS02-10_2006-series_capacitors_(short).pdf

    Hans
    OH6MY

  55. Massimo PORZIO says:

    sibeen said at June 14, 2011 at 1:24 am:
    “Massimo, it is a DC current that is induced into the grid. Transformers really don’t like DC being injected into them and have a tendency to overheat, explode, melt down. Not what you really want to happen when getting a replacement may take months.”
    If the grid has the 4th ground conductor as most of the Italian grid has, I don’t believe there is any DC current in the transformers at all. I write that, because the surge induction is the same on every conductor, so the resulting current for the network is zero. The problem arises if the grid doesn’t have any ground conductor, because the Earth ground behaves very differently than the grid conductors and when the induction wave floods that electric network a potential could come up at the two ends of the grid. This could be a big problem for the transformers because in that situation an high current surely flows through them.
    I fully agree with the explanation of Hans Åström about what happen in the transformers, but instead of insulate the earthed neutral I believe it should be better the 4th ground conductor which ties the two grounds at the grid ends to the same potential. Anyways I’ve to admit that this is not my specific field, so I don’t know how much it must be sized that 4th conductor to work that way.

    By the way Hans, if OH6MY is your callsign, here is IK1IZA.
    73

  56. lateintheday says:

    John Marshall – could you point me to that Windfarm/National Grid story please.
    Thanks

  57. Theo Goodwin says:

    This is no news. In an era of hysteria, when there is an administration whose middle name is hysteria, any theoretical possibility of harm will be played to the maximum. It is the Precautionary Principle at work. In addition, when the administration has strong socialistic tendencies, the remedy chosen will maximize federal government control over all private resources. It was inevitable. As are many other things coming down the pike.

    If the administration did not seize each such opportunity, the feeling of regret would be so great that some of its members would go into terminal depression. The Precautionary Principle again.

  58. Al Gore-mless says:

    What do the met office know about the sun’s activities?

    They can’t even manage to accurately grasp the immediate local & regional weather here on earth, let alone mid-long term climate change trends, let alone sun flares!

    It is clearly a funding grab where you may as well instead pay some old hobo £1bn to guess & speculate instead of paying this bloated public sector funded organisation to do the same!

  59. Hans Åström says:

    to Massimo
    Yes OH6MY is my callsign although I’m not very “radioactive” these days.
    The problem is that the fourth (neutral) conductor carries GIC the same way and in the same direction as the phases because it runs he same path as the phase conductors and is subjected to the same changes in the magnetic field of the earth.
    The return path is the earth itself. I think you do not have those problems in Italy because you hardly encounter Aurora down there. Here in Finland we have those GIC problems but there is introduced capacitor banks in our 400 kV system.
    We even simulated the influence of GIC by running DC into the neutral of a large transformer using a DC-arc welder and the transformer started moaning at very low neutral DC currents!

    Hans
    OH6MY

  60. Dave Springer says:

    GaryP says:
    June 13, 2011 at 6:03 pm

    Gary’s right. Solar storms don’t fry personal electronics. They fry transformers with many miles of electrical lines connected to them where the induced DC current on the lines saturates the core of the transformer and makes it overheat. The big transformers at power sub-stations are typically made on demand and have manufacturing lead times of several months. Protecting them is simply a matter of opening a circuit breaker so the DC loop is broken. I’m not sure why these transformers don’t have built-in protection against excessive DC current in the core but evidently they do not. In any case as others have mentioned there is no significant inventory of large transformers sitting on the shelf nor any excess in manufacturing capacity so in the case of a huge spike in demand because tens or hundreds of thousands got fried all at once in a big solar storm it would take years to replace them all. Just restoring critical power for hospitals and personal medical equipment, refrigeration, water pumps, sewer pumps, and pumping fuel out of underground tanks at gas stations would take weeks. Massive electrical outage across half a continent lasting for weeks would be the biggest disaster in recorded history with a death toll of many many millions.

  61. jglord says:

    For a planet filled with people of nations wanting to go green a class five event that would take down national grids should be viewed as a good thing; so why worry? Many of those leaving messages say these events can not happen yet so many await the 2012 predictions of the Mayans or even of the semi-lucid so claimed prophets who claim the end is near.We should be talking about when not if for mush more than the Internet will be gone. There is a chance that solar flare could cause an event so heinous as to destroy life on the side facing the sun. This would entail horrendous consequences for those who survive. perhaps we should work harder at being our brothers keeper and preparing for what ifs and maybe to insure we all maintain a good quality of life.

  62. pochas says:

    Well then, it seems there may be a problem. Let me ask the knowledgeable posters: If the problem is that large DC currents will overheat transformer cores, then why wouldn’t the circuit breakers trip, just as they do for a ground fault?

  63. Massimo PORZIO says:

    Hans Åström said at June 14, 2011 at 6:16 am:
    “The problem is that the fourth (neutral) conductor carries GIC the same way and in the same direction as the phases because it runs he same path as the phase conductors and is subjected to the same changes in the magnetic field of the earth.”
    Hi Hans.
    I repeat myself, I’m not an expert in the field, I work more with microprocessors and medium power industrial devices such as IGBTs and SCRs. What I was suggesting is because as you say the earthed ground conductor is subjected to the same magnetic field changes of the other conductors. If its impedance was enough low to handle the induced current, it should be a good way to keep the two neutrals at the same level of the three phases and avoid the very low frequency current into the transformers.
    The problem maybe the “if” I used because I know the very low ground impedance at that frequencies.

    Anyways I’m not very “radioactive” too, just some little VHF and UHF chats by night :-)

  64. JohnH says:

    Info on Wind Turbines and UK National Grid, seems the network upgrades have not been keeping pace with the increase in Wind Turbine farms

    http://www.windbyte.co.uk/

    and

    http://www.reuters.com/article/2011/06/13/us-britain-transmission-natgrid-idUSTRE75C2PY20110613

  65. Andrew Zalotocky says:

    The more we learn about the universe the more we realise how small we are in comparison to all the huge natural forces that could crush us in an instant. The ignorant peasant can complacently assume that his small world is the centre of the universe. The citizen of a modern technological society is anxious because he or she recognises how vulnerable we are. But if ignorance is bliss, knowledge is the opportunity to prepare.

  66. Kevin says:

    Thanks for the info, les frances!

  67. IAmDigitap says:

    I nominate ROSS’ comment near the very top for about the FUNNiest thing I’ve read, all week. Outstanding.

  68. _Jim says:

    A quick search of this thread did not yield up the key word “islanding” … the proper term for segmenting the ‘grid’ into smaller, manageable parts sans the ‘tie lines’ that are normally used to transfer power to or through at the transmission level …

    Prior writings on the subj (with reference to power distribution company internal training material):

    Largest space weather storm in at least four years
    Posted on February 18, 2011 by Anthony Watts

    .

  69. _Jim says:

    Dave Springer says on June 14, 2011 at 6:39 am:

    Protecting them is simply a matter of opening a circuit breaker so the DC loop is broken. I’m not sure why these transformers don’t have built-in protection against excessive DC current in the core but evidently they do not.

    Dave, are ya justs plain impervious to the input from others?

    This post was to you back on: February 19, 2011 at 4:44 am

    I am beginning to think there is ‘thick’ and then a category after that called ‘Dave thick’ .. just sayin y’all …

    .

  70. _Jim says:

    Massimo PORZIO says on June 14, 2011 at 12:46 am:

    I don’t believe that, because any power line has three conductors having currents phase-shifted 120° between them. An equal external induced current to the three conductor has no effect on the transformers because it is in-phase on each conductor.

    This is not a case for speculation, but more on examining the damage that has been done in the past when planning to handle such events was not undertaken … witness the damage pictures within this training document here:

    http://www.pjm.com/training/~/media/training/core-curriculum/ip-ops-101/ops101-weatheremer.ashx

    Slide #14 is particularly gruesome (transformer damage).

    Note also other slides address the physics of what takes place.

    .

  71. Colin says:

    I know it’s difficult, but we have to try to educate those desperately needing it.
    Dave Springer: “The big transformers at power sub-stations are typically made on demand and have manufacturing lead times of several months.”

    No, the lead time is about two years. There are NO manufacturers in North America any more. The last new large transformers built and installed were on Hydro-Quebec’s DC system, imported from Europe. In Canada alone there were three manufacturers of large power transformers at the turn of the 1990s, but there’s been no significant transmission construction in the past 20 years.

  72. _Jim says:

    Big Al says on June 13, 2011 at 7:25 pm

    The other problem is the GPS system. It is a weak signal but I’m sure the satellites are hardened against radiation impulses. So the satellite may survive, but the signal would be worthless.

    One account (from 2005) I could find showed a documented ‘dip’ in signal strength of maximally 3 dB; this is not a significant amount. The travel of GPS birds from horizon can show this much change, some owing to the receive antenna’s inherent pattern anomalies, and others owing to temporary obstruction such as due to an aircraft’s tail and/or rear stabilizer structure:

    The flare consisted of two events about 40 minutes apart: The first lasted 70 seconds and caused a 40 percent signal drop; the second lasted 15 minutes and caused a 50 percent drop.

    Note: In most GPS applications 20 to 30 dB (factors of times 100 and times 1000 respectively) fade margin is budgeted for as shown in this GPS Link Budget Analysis, so 3 dB is well within the limits of coping.

    Also be advised the present architecture of GPS is not the end of the road; from the
    FAA.goc website
    :

    A second civil frequency is the next logical step in modernization of the navigation architecture and providing improved satellite navigation services. Within the U.S., it will improve the reliability of satellite navigation, particularly against the potential threats of interference and ionosphere. Outside of the U.S., it will make precision approaches possible with even less infrastructure than is achievable with WAAS alone. In addition, additional operational benefits will be defined as the service is defined and applications for that service are developed.

    .

  73. Hans Åström says:

    Quoting Colin:
    “I know it’s difficult, but we have to try to educate those desperately needing it.
    Dave Springer: “The big transformers at power sub-stations are typically made on demand and have manufacturing lead times of several months.”

    No, the lead time is about two years. There are NO manufacturers in North America any more. The last new large transformers built and installed were on Hydro-Quebec’s DC system, imported from Europe. In Canada alone there were three manufacturers of large power transformers at the turn of the 1990s, but there’s been no significant transmission construction in the past 20 years.”

    The situation is not that bad.
    Typical lead-times for large power transformers up to 63 MVA are 5 – 7 months, 63 – 100 MVA 6 – 8 months, 100 – 250 MVA 7-12 months. Very large generator transformers 250 – 1000 MVA 12+ months.
    There are some substantial transformer producers still in NA, ABB in St Louis and Waukesha in Wisconsin and North Carolina. ABB also operates a factory in Varennes, Quebec Canada and a transformer service and repair shop in Guelph, Ontario Canada.
    There are although only some few manufacturers of transformers for HVDC application and the most substantial of them are located in Europe, ABB Transformers in Ludvika, Sweden might be considered as the most “Hi-Tech” of them all.

    Hans
    OH6MY

  74. Massimo PORZIO says:

    _Jim said June 14, 2011 at 8:16 pm
    “This is not a case for speculation, but more on examining the damage that has been done in the past when planning to handle such events was not undertaken … witness the damage pictures within this training document here…”
    Thank you Jim for the nice and useful link.
    As you can see in slide 7, it demonstrates that me and Hans were right about the transformers problem.
    The damaging currents flow through the grounded neutrals. As Hans suggested a capacitor in series to those grounding could help reduce damaging because it increase the ground impedance at those very low frequencies the induced currents flow (someone call them DC currents, but I agree with Hans, they can’t be DC currents because a steady magnetic field can’t induce a DC current ).
    What I was arguing is that in case you connect a 4th conductor which connects together the neutrals of the two transformers at the ends of the grid, it could help reduce the very low frequency current flow into the transformer coils. That because it should have a lower impedance than the coils which will be paralleled to it.

    Massimo

  75. Keith Battye says:

    I used to distribute McGraw Edison products here , mainly auto re-closers but some transformers.

    Are they out of the transformer business now?

  76. Spector says:

    If we are only talking about primary distribution system transformers, it might be practicable to provide a complete set of backup units in cold standby, funded over the average time between events or failures. Replacing all the endpoint pole transformers would be another issue altogether.

    I do not think modern society could tolerate a one to five-year power blackout.

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