Thursday, July 15, 2010

As if...

Today is Thursday, 15 July 2010.

...there isn't enough about which to worry.

Without a steady supply of copious amounts of electricity, there can be no First World lifestyle. That steady supply is provided by the modern power grid. Until the 1950s, power generation was local or, at best, regional: little power was shared across, for example, the United States. Now, power generated in Maine can be, when needed, transferred almost instantaneously to Los Angeles. What if this grid were broken?

The transformers are a vital and particularly vulnerable segment of the grid. These elements receive power from high-voltage transmission lines, step it down from hundreds of thousands of volts to tens of thousands of volts, and pass the power on to the units which deliver electricity to individual homes, businesses, etc.

In 1859 and 1921, Earth was struck by geomagnetic storms, produced by the Sun, of extraordinary ferocity. Of course, in 1859 there was no electrical generation, and, in 1921, there was virtually no grid. An electromagnetic pulse (EMP) generated by the Sun, were it of sufficient magnitude (such as 1859 and 1921), would fry as many as a third of American transformers, which would take several years to replace. (The current timeframe for delivery of transformers is some three years.)

One can easily imagine the economic damage, human suffering, and degradation of life quality which would result.

The relevant transformers in this country, some 5,000, could be largely protected from such a catastrophe by the installation of surge suppressors, which would cost in the range of $250 to $500 million. Last month, the U.S. House unanimously passed a bill which would empower the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission to require such suppressors. The fate of the legislation is in doubt in the U.S. Senate.

I’ve been aware of this vulnerability in the grid for years, both from EMPs caused by solar storms and by nuclear bomb blasts sufficiently high in the atmosphere. Not until I read an article on The Huffington Post (citation below) was I aware that the current solar storm cycle could produce an 1859/1921 event in 2012.

I’m sure many Senate Republicans will consider requiring surge suppressors as unconstitutional micromanagement of free enterprise. While they scheme to extend $658 billion in tax forgiveness to the wealthiest among us, let’s hope they vote to require that the power business spend $500 million to protect us from Solaric terrorism.


Anonymous Anxious Reader said...

How aptly this column is named. I have a new knot in my stomach, largely because my senators are short-sighted and business oriented--you know, the ones who think BP is being persecuted.

I will look for further news about this vote. Maybe you will also provide an update?

4:40 PM  
Anonymous HH said...

The bill is the American Clean Energy Leadership Act (S-1462). Presently contains no surge suppressor requirement. I'll try to follow this. In the meantime, start buying candles. I hear Glenn Beck is offering great deals on dried survival pemmican.

6:38 AM  

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