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Perfect Solar Storm: VT Law School Study Recommends Better Preparation, Coordination to Protect Power Grid

October 17, 2011

SOUTH ROYALTON, VT -- With the planet overdue for a severe solar storm, policymakers and utilities should promptly begin coordinating efforts to protect the electrical grid's vulnerable components, prepare system operators and automate procedures, a Vermont Law School study recommends.Image of solar storm

The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration's Space Weather Prediction Center says an increase in the number of solar storms -- or eruptions of electrically charged gas from the sun -- is expected over the next three to five years.

"While it may be difficult during this time of fiscal austerity to imagine devoting substantial funds to a threat that we have never had to face, a comprehensive plan to prepare for a severe solar storm will cost far less now than will addressing the catastrophic impacts to the North American electricity grid when the perfect solar storm finally arrives," according to the article.

The study, titled "Not Your Father's Y2K: Preparing the North American Power Grid for the Perfect Solar Storm," is published in the Electricity Journal.

Solar storms, whose bursts of electromagnetic energy interfere with the Earth's magnetic field, have the potential to inflict massive damage on high-voltage transmission lines, communication satellites, GPS navigation systems, data centers, air traffic control facilities and other critical infrastructure, including water distribution, sewage, medical care, phone service and fuel supply systems, the study reports.

In 2010, the Space Weather Enterprise Forum, a coalition of federal and private space officials who monitor geomagnetic disturbances and their effects on critical infrastructure, issued a report stating that the nation is not ready for a solar storm of even modest size.Image of electric tower

"Electric utilities and transmission system operators need not wait passively for the perfect solar storm," the article says. "A series of eight recommendations, adopted as part of a comprehensive strategy, could address many of the threats a large solar storm imposes on critical parts of the North American bulk power system."

The study's recommendations:

• Incorporate solar storms into North American Electric Reliability Corporation (NERC) reliability standards
• Improve solar storm forecasting
• Upgrade solar storm early warning and alert systems
• Use smarter grid technologies to improve situational awareness
• Expand automatic protective mechanisms
• Automate voltage stabilization
• Invest in domestic manufacturing of system components
• Coordinate policy action

Read the article's abstract. Copies of the full article are available from the authors at VLS's Institute for Energy and the Environment:

Senior Research Fellow Christopher Cooper: 202.251.7166 or ccooper@vermontlaw.edu
Associate Professor Benjamin Sovacool: 802.831.1053 or BSovacool@vermontlaw.edu

CONTACT: John Cramer, Associate Director of Media Relations
Office: 802.831.1106, cell: 540.798.7099, home: 802.649.2235, jcramer@vermontlaw.edu

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