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NASA Looks to Protect U.S. Power Grid with "Solar Shield" Project
General
Written by Daniel   
Tuesday, 02 November 2010 17:38

From DailyTech

Solar Shield could prevent lengthy power blackouts and transformer damage during geomagnetic storms

NASA has created a new project called "Solar Shield" in an effort to prevent damage to key transformers in the case of a severe solar storm.

In 1859, a severe solar storm called the Carrington Event occurred throughout September 1 and 2. It is the most powerful solar storm recorded in history. Offices caught on fire and telegraph operators were actually shocked and saw sparks from the storm. Sunspots and solar flares were seen on the sun from August 28 through September 2, and aurorae seen over the Rocky Mountains were so bright that gold miners awoke early because they thought it was daylight. Just before noon on September 1, Richard Carrington, a British astronomer, saw the largest flare in the sky. This large flare caused a coronal mass ejection, which is a billion-ton solar storm cloud, which took 18 hours to travel toward Earth.



A report composed in 2008 by the National Academy of Sciences noted that a solar storm as severe as the Carrington Event could cause mass power blackouts and "permanent damage" to main transformers if it were to occur today. In fact, in 1989, Quebec experienced a geomagnetic storm much less powerful than the Carrington Event, and even still, power was knocked out for over nine hours and transformers were damaged in Quebec, Great Britain and New Jersey. In 2003, yet another geomagnetic storm milder than the Carrington Event occurred, causing transformer damage in South Africa and blackouts in southern Sweden.

Unfortunately, a report composed by the North American Electric Reliability Corporation (NERC) and the U.S. Department of Energy in 2009 warns that modern power systems, though several utilities have taken the necessary steps to strengthen and secure their power grids, have a "significantly enhanced vulnerability and exposure to effects of a severe geomagnetic storm."

To protect power systems in the event that another powerful solar storm should occur, NASA has developed a project called "Solar Shield," which has the potential to shelter high-voltage power lines that crisscross over North America. Considering the length of these power lines has "increased nearly 10 fold" since the beginning of the Space Age, it is critical to consider the affect a solar storm could have on power systems in the United States and throughout the world.

 

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