Can we protect the grid from solar storms?

21 January 2014

Question

How can we protect power grids from solar storms?

Answer

We put this question to Lucie Green, from University College London (UCL)...

Lucie - Well, we can't stop its impact with the Earth. That's absolutely certain. So, when it arrives, what happens is it encounters the Earth's magnetic field.

So, these coronal mass ejections are magnetic bubbles themselves in a sense and then they interact with the Earth's magnetic field. If you change the Earth's magnetic field, you can start to create electric currents. But the national grids, they are interested in the very large events. There's day to day space weather as I said was sitting in a dynamic and variable atmosphere of the sun. But national grid in this country are really interested in the big one that could cause a lot of currents, set up a load of currents that would then affect their electricity networks. So, they do take into account what the sun does. They are watching it all the time. What they can do is make sure that there are people at the relevant substations that need to be monitored. But they do have ways of bringing up power lines if necessary and monitoring the systems. But all of these take time, and this is why we need the forecast, the warning of what's going to arrive at us and whether it's going to have a strong impact.

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