What is a Solar Flare? How can it Effect our Electronic Lives?Randy Mitchell (VTech)
What is a Solar Flare?
A Solar Flare is the release of pent-up energy, also called a Coronal Mass Ejection (CME). Think of them as the results of storms on the surface of the sun, or “spouts of magnetic energy”. In early December, we had a Solar Flare. This Solar Flare coincides with the onset of “Solar Cycle 25”. A Solar Cycle is an 11 year window of time during which the storminess on the surface of the sun peaks and solar storms become routine. The Earth’s magnetic field usually protects us from the bad effects of solar storms. When there is a large Solar Flare, it overpowers Earth’s magnetic defenses, heating the upper atmosphere and charging it with electricity. This electrically charged atmosphere results in the auroras seen typically in the earth’s northern and southern poles. The added electrical storminess creates electromagnetic currents in the atmosphere and on the ground. This “current effect” can allow the auroras to be seen far north and south of their usual ranges.
How Can a Solar Flare Effect our Electronic Lives?
A solar flare effects our lives when Earth’s atmosphere has been disturbed by the solar flare. This disturbance creates electromagnetic currents in the atmosphere and on the ground. This current can flow through the atmosphere to ground level that the power grid is “grounded” to. The energy from the Solar Flare can overload the generating equipment which creates our power. In the event of damage, these generators would have to be repaired or replaced before they could restore power to the grid. If this happened without warning, it could take days or weeks in order to restore power. This could result in food and fuel supply issues, harming the economy….it has been estimated that one day without power in New York City alone could cost the economy one billion dollars.
How can we Prepare for Solar Flares?
An accurate form of prediction of solar flares/solar storms could be a way of dealing with them. The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, (NOAA) is trying to develop the capability of accurately predicting Solar Storms. It would allow a “planned shutdown” of the grid before the solar storm reaches Earth. This would assure that the generation portion of the grid isn’t compromised. After the storm dissipates, the grid is turned back on, avoiding the time and cost of repairs in getting the infrastructure back to normal. This “prediction solution” is still in the discovery phase. The current theory is to have satellites monitoring solar activity. If destructive solar activity is noted, the grid could be temporarily shut down. If “solar weather forecasts”are as“accurate” as our current Earth weather forecasts, we should DEFINITELY have “preventive measures” in place to protect the power grid infrastructure from damage!
How do we Protect the Power Grid from Solar Flares?
Protection of the Power Grid from solar flares involves two possible methods. The first involves covering/blanketing crucial elements of the grid, essentially “hardening” these elements against the effects of a solar event. Covering the critical pieces of equipment with a “Faraday Enclosure” made completely of woven conductive metal textiles, creating a (faraday “tent”) or a rigid structure with conductive textile covering the walls (architectural shielding). These “shield” equipment from the potential damage electrical fields create. The Faraday Enclosure dampens the damaging current from reaching the critical elements by distributing the current through the walls of the enclosure.
The second involves making “capacitor banks” that could absorb and dissipate the excess energy, protecting the system from damage due to overload.
What is the best Method to Use?
I tend to favor the “hardening/covering and Capacitor methods of protection. Both methods are able to be accomplished with currently available and applicable scientific technology, rather than the “theoretical technology” of solar weather forecasting. They would give more immediate, tangible results for the investment.
Given the slow development of accurate weather forecasting even on our own planet, I see the development of accurate space weather forecasting as a long way off. Space weather forecasting is an interesting concept and worth developing. This method also involves shutting down the grid during the storm, interrupting life as we know it. A shutdown could be a simple inconvenience, or a catastrophic event. Let’s protect what we have from damage rather than having to react to the damage from “the perfect solar storm”!
V Technical Textiles, Inc. provides the woven metalized textiles such as Nora Dell CR needed in fabrication of a Faraday Enclosures or Faraday Tents to protect your sensitive electronics from the damage that can be caused by a solar event or electromagnetic pulse! Contact us to discuss solutions for your protective shielding needs!
V Technical Textiles, Inc.
Architectural Shielding National Power Grid Faraday Tent