Thursday, June 23, 2011

EMP Protection

I have posted before on this topic and welcome the recent attention paid to it.  Efforts are now under way to engineer solutions for the emerging national power grid that can handle the inevitable solar storm or worse, a real attack with high altitude nuclear blasts producing an EMP or electromagnetic pulse.

Both threats are real and have the same solution.  The best solution is to establish mandatory requirements and let the engineers bid for the work with as many working solutions as possible.

Our present vulnerability is high and a major storm is able to shut down all power and even outright destroy our entire electronics civilization.  The good news is that few should die and replacement is easily accomplished.  It is not hurricane Katrina, but it is a massive inconvenience as our civilization will need to reboot.

The second item places simple resisters between core circuit components such as transformers and their grounds.  It is an uncomplicated solution to part of the problem and cheap to engineer into the circuits.  It does not solve the whole problem as nothing does that, but is shows us that protesting the grid itself may be surprisingly simple.  Blocking ground surges and knocking out all the breakers may do it nicely.  We would notice, but would retain immediate power to operated anything still working.

Getting Ready for the Next Big Solar Storm

june 21, 2011: In Sept. 1859, on the eve of a below-average1 solar cycle, the sun unleashed one of the most powerful storms in centuries. The underlying flare was so unusual, researchers still aren't sure how to categorize it.  The blast peppered Earth with the most energetic protons in half-a-millennium, induced electrical currents that set telegraph offices on fire, and sparked Northern Lights over Cuba and Hawaii.

This week, officials have gathered at the National Press Club in Washington DC to ask themselves a simple question: What if it happens again?

Modern power grids are vulnerable to solar storms. Photo credit: Martin Stojanovski

"A similar storm today might knock us for a loop," says Lika Guhathakurta, a solar physicist at NASA headquarters. "Modern society depends on high-tech systems such as smart power grids, GPS, and satellite communications--all of which are vulnerable to solar storms."

She and more than a hundred others are attending the fifth annual Space Weather Enterprise Forum—"SWEF" for short.  The purpose of SWEF is to raise awareness of space weather and its effects on society especially among policy makers and emergency responders.  Attendees come from the US Congress, FEMA, power companies, the United Nations, NASA, NOAA and more.

As 2011 unfolds, the sun is once again on the eve of a below-average solar cycle—at least that’s what forecasters are saying.  The "Carrington event" of 1859 (named after astronomer Richard Carrington, who witnessed the instigating flare) reminds us that strong storms can occur even when the underlying cycle is nominally weak.  

In 1859 the worst-case scenario was a day or two without telegraph messages and a lot of puzzled sky watchers on tropical islands.

In 2011 the situation would be more serious. An avalanche of blackouts carried across continents by long-distance power lines could last for weeks to months as engineers struggle to repair damaged transformers. Planes and ships couldn’t trust GPS units for navigation.  Banking and financial networks might go offline, disrupting commerce in a way unique to the Information Age.  According to a 2008 report from the National Academy of Sciences, a century-class solar storm could have the economic impact of 20 hurricane Katrinas.

As policy makers meet to learn about this menace, NASA researchers a few miles away are actually doing something about it:
"We can now track the progress of solar storms in 3 dimensions as the storms bear down on Earth," says Michael Hesse, chief of the GSFC Space Weather Lab and a speaker at the forum.  "This sets the stage for actionable space weather alerts that could preserve power grids and other high-tech assets during extreme periods of solar activity."

They do it using data from a fleet of NASA spacecraft surrounding the sun.  Analysts at the lab feed the information into a bank of supercomputers for processing.  Within hours of a major eruption, the computers spit out a 3D movie showing where the storm will go, which planets and spacecraft it will hit, and predicting when the impacts will occur.  This kind of "interplanetary forecast" is unprecedented in the short history of space weather forecasting.

"This is a really exciting time to work as a space weather forecaster," says Antti Pulkkinen, a researcher at the Space Weather Lab.  "The emergence of serious physics-based space weather models is putting us in a position to predict if something major will happen."

Some of the computer models are so sophisticated, they can even predict electrical currents flowing in the soil of Earth when a solar storm strikes.  These currents are what do the most damage to power transformers.  An experimental project named "Solar Shield" led by Pulkkinen aims to pinpoint transformers in greatest danger of failure during any particular storm.

"Disconnecting a specific transformer for a few hours could forestall weeks of regional blackouts," says Pulkkinen.

Another SWEF speaker, John Allen of NASA's Space Operations Mission Directorate, pointed out that while people from all walks of life can be affected by space weather, no one is out on the front lines quite like astronauts.

"Astronauts are routinely exposed to four times as much radiation as industrial radiation workers on Earth," he says.  "It's a serious occupational hazard."

NASA keeps careful track of each astronaut's accumulated dosage throughout their careers.  Every launch, every space walk, every solar flare is carefully accounted for.  If an astronaut gets too close to the limits ... he or she might not be allowed out of the space station!  Accurate space weather alerts can help keep these exposures under control by, e.g., postponing spacewalks when flares are likely.

Speaking at the forum, Allen called for a new kind of forecast: "We could use All Clear alerts. In addition to knowing when it's dangerous to go outside, we'd also like to know when it's safe.  This is another frontier for forecasters--not only telling us when a sunspot will erupt, but also when it won't."

The educational mission of SWEF is key to storm preparedness. As Lika Guhathakurta and colleague Dan Baker of the University of Colorado asked in a June 17th New York Times op-ed: "What good are space weather alerts if people don’t understand them and won’t react to them?"

By spreading the word, SWEF will help.

Over 2.4 Billion Needed to Fix US Power Grid

Monday, 17 January 2011
Dr. Weblog – NestLink

Over 2.4 billion dollars, that’s $2,500,000,000 US, is needed to fix the United States of America’s Power Grid from total collapse during the 2013 Solar Storm Maximum; currently predicted by The Solar Cycle 24 Prediction Panel.

John Kappenman, CEO of electromagnetic damage consulting company MetaTech, talks to on 4/17/2009 about the possibility of geomagnetic apocalypse and how to stop it.

"We’ve got a big, interconnected grid that spans across the country. Over the years, higher and higher operating voltages have been added to it. This has  escalated our vulnerability to geomagnetic storms. These are not a new thing. They’ve probably been occurring for as long as the sun has been around. It’s just that we’ve been unknowingly building an infrastructure that’s acting more and more like an antenna for geomagnetic storms.

Large currents circulate in the network, coming up from the earth through ground connections at large transformers. We need these for safety reasons, but ground connections provide entry paths for charges that could disrupt the grid.

What we’re proposing is to add some fairly small and inexpensive resistors in the transformers’ ground connections. The addition of that little bit of resistance would significantly reduce the amount of the geomagnetically induced currents that flow into the grid.


In its simplest form, it’s something that might be made out of cast iron or stainless steel, about the size of a washing machine.

We’re still at the conceptual design phase, but we think it’s do-able for $40,000 or less per resistor. That’s less than what you pay for insurance for a transformer.

If you’re talking about the United States, there are about 5,000 transformers to consider this for. The Electromagnetic Pulse Commission, Commission to Assess the Threat to the United States from Electromagnetic Pulse (EMP) Attack, recommended it in a report they sent to Congress last year. We’re talking about $150 million or so. It’s pretty small in the grand scheme of things.

Big power lines and substations can withstand all the other known environmental challenges. The problem with geomagnetic storms is that we never really understood them as a vulnerability, and had a design code that took them into account."

I’m not in the camp that’s certain a big storm will occur in 2012. But given time, a big storm is certain to occur in the future. They have in the past, and they will again. They’re about one-in-400-year events. That doesn’t mean it will be 2012. It’s just as likely that it could occur next week"

Two years later, not much has been done to protect the United States power grid from the 2013 Solar Storm Maximum. Even if the 5,000+ high voltage power transmission transformers are fixed by 2013, this is just part of the solution. Shielding power stations, generators, nuclear power plants, monitoring equipment, computers, commercial and residential transformers would also need to be completed. Bottom line, prepare yourself.
It’s not if the US will lose power, it’s when.

Additional Information about John G. Kappenman

John G. Kappenman is a 1976 graduate in Electrical Engineering from South Dakota State University. After graduation, he joined Minnesota Power (1977-1998). In 1998 he joined Metatech as the Manager of the Applied Power Solutions Division. He directs the development of products, services, and consulting that are provided to clientele worldwide, primarily focusing on lightning and Space Weather impacts on electric utilities. He has been an active researcher in power delivery technologies and his primary engineering contribution has been his research work on lightning and magnetic storms and their disruptive effects on electric power systems. He led a utility industry effort to deploy a monitoring satellite that now provides advanced warnings of geomagnetic storms (launched by NASA in August 1997). He has also been a collaborator with EPRI and Global Atmospherics on the development and application of the Fault Analysis and Lightning Location System that will allow economic Location-Centered mitigation of lightning to transmission networks. He is a Senior Member of the IEEE and the Power Engineering Society, and is the Past Chairman of the Transmission and Distribution Committee (1994-1996). He currently serves as an Instructor at the University of Minnesota-Duluth Department of Electrical and Computer Engineering. He has also served a number of times as a faculty member on a University of Minnesota Short Course on EMTP. He has published over 30 papers in a variety of subject areas. He is a recipient of the IEEE Walter Fee Outstanding Young Engineer Award, the IEEE Prize Paper Award, the Westinghouse Nikola Tesla Award and two EPRI Innovator Awards. In February 1997, John Kappenman provided presentations to the US Presidents’ Commission on Critical Infrastructure Protection on the potential impact of geomagnetic storms on electric power system reliability and also served as an Invited Lecturer at the International Space University on Space Weather and Impacts on Electric Power Systems. John Kappenman has been appointed to the Organizing Committee and was one of the Lecturers at the NATO Advanced Science Institute on Space Storms and Space Weather Hazards that was held in June 2000.

1 comment:

TechProtect said...

We agree that we need to be prepared and protected in case such an event takes place. While we wait for our nation to get on board we have come up with a way to be protected, as individuals, in our own homes. We have come up with an inexpensive and convienant way to protect electronics from an EMP. Our bags meet the military spec. They are designed with a zip seal for easy access to put something in, and take out without destroying your faraday "cage" bag. There is also an iron seal that is optional for long term storage if that is prefered. Our website is Come check it out! Learn a little more about EMP protection and contact us with any questions.

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