Solar storm may knock out power - report

2011-12-03 10:31

London - An upcoming cycle of stormy solar activity risks causing damage to electrical transformers and threatening vulnerable energy infrastructure around the globe, a report by an insurance group says.

The sun follows a predictable 11 year activity cycle, with the next period of stormy activity expected to begin in 2012-13.

The report by German insurance group Allianz said a high impact solar storm, not easily predicted due to its recorded rarity, could cause blackouts and economic losses of over $1 trillion and that the worst case scenario would be even worse.

"What we're coming into at the moment is the bad (space) weather period," Jim Wild of Britain's Lancaster University, an expert in solar plasma physics, told Reuters.

Solar storm

A large explosion on the surface of the sun could release billions of tonnes of superheated magnetically charged gas at a speed of a million miles per hour, and when that gas hits the earth's magnetic field, it can trigger a big solar storm.

The severity of a potential disruption has made experts at insurance and national security institutions take notice.

"When you start to imagine not having electricity in a sizeable fraction of a country or a continent for weeks or even months ... it's serious business," Wild said.

The difficulty lies in predicting how often serious solar type events occur.

The small lead time given by satellites is also a problem for preventing solar storm damage, as currently no satellite is close enough to the sun to give more than an hour's warning, Wild said.

Updating the satellites to give the earth more preparation time would cost around $1bn, he added.


Space weather is a relatively new area of study, with sophisticated observations going back only 50 years and lacking an international co-ordinated tracking system such as that found with normal meteorological weather.

"We have very little on a solar time scale," Wild said.

The most damaging storm in recent memory was a 1989 outage in Quebec, Canada, which affected six million people.

The first scientific recording of a large solar storm was made in 1859 by English astronomer Richard Carrington, who observed a white light explosion on the surface of the sun.

Wild said: "what they didn't know back then was why about two or three days later you could see the northern lights over Cuba and all of the telegraph system was disrupted by geomagnetic activity."

According to the Allianz report, an event on the same scale today would cause extensive damage to electrical infrastructure.

  • Trevor - 2011-12-03 12:03

    No problem for South Africa, we have Eskom so blackouts...what blackouts....

  • Willemien - 2011-12-03 12:36

    Getting closer to 21 December 2012! This info fits perfectly into predictions of solar explosions. My very basic understanding is that magnectic bands around the surface of the sun protects us and that will be broken during all kinds of natural disasters.

      Clive - 2011-12-03 13:11

      Sorry Willemien, you don't have a basic understanding. Nor does the writer. It's the Earth's magnetic field that protects us from solar emissions, not the sun's. The particles that are not deflected by the field is what can "trigger a big solar storm"

      Jan.J.Sheppard - 2012-01-24 08:37

      Whahahahahaha funny Willemien....well, I hope you posted this in good humor, otherwise you need to read more!

  • Robin - 2011-12-03 14:02

    I wonder how soon some idiot is going to blame this on so-called 'global warming'?

      Dan - 2011-12-04 23:10

      or apartheid???

  • Ernst - 2011-12-03 19:55

    I just want to urge people that read this message to watch the following presentation. It is absolutely shocking: See: The presentation is done by a University Professor (The investigation is is in no way alarmist and totally objective). In it he exposes the shocking (disturbing) lies told by a prominent Global Warming Denialist by the name of Lord Christopher Monckton. These lies were designed to misinform people about the threat. It is shocking, please watch it.

      Soetdoring - 2011-12-05 02:06

      And as usual I will put some perspective to this whole Monckton-Abraham debate by inviting others also to have a look at Monckton's response

      Ernst - 2011-12-05 11:05

      @Soetdoring: So what you want to do is to make the arguments of the 3% of scientists that believe Global Warming is not manmade count 50% in weight and the arguments of the other 97% (that believe man is to blame) to be reduced to 50%. That's not very scientific is it. And as far as Monckton is concerned, the guy is not even a scientist, doesnt have a PHD, has never published any papers in scientific journals, what more should I say...Pathetic.

  • Johann - 2011-12-03 20:36

    Just another method of preventing pay-outs on related insurance claims. Watch the policy renewal schedules on your house hold insurance closely when renewed......

  • Ron - 2011-12-04 16:36

    I liked the book Preppers Road March which tells a fictional account of surviving after a solar storm takes the grid out

  • sgajoonaidoo - 2012-01-24 11:14

    Solar Bullet actually refers to radiation thats very extreme that will reaches earth! If the magnetic force around a area is less, impact is greater!!!U got to understand the laws of attraction and the theory of Inertia!!!If u think UV Rays are bad, u cannot imagine the amount of radiation enterings the earths atmospher or stratosphere!!!!

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