Solar Storms and Overhead Power Lines

RETA has previously referenced the impacts of solar or geomagnetic storms on the operation of high voltage transmission lines. One such storm in Quebec in 1989 knocked out power in Hydro-Quebec’s overhead high voltage grid, resulting in 6 million people going without power for 9 hours. The storm caused $10 million in damages to Hydro-Quebec’s overhead transmission infrastructure, and tens of millions of dollars in losses to its customers.

A recent National Geographic article provides more insight into the potential for solar storms causing significant power outages at the regional or national level for weeks or even months.

Solar storm clouds can carry billions of tons of matter moving at 2,000 kilometres/second. If these clouds reach Earth’s magnetosphere, their charged particles become electromagnetically coupled to Earth’s magnetic field and generate large electrical currents millions of amperes strong. The sprawling electrical grid on Earth’s surface acts like an antenna, allowing these currents to flow into high voltage transmission lines. These powerful currents can cause transformers to overheat and burn out. This can then lead to voltage collapse when it is no longer possible to push needed power through transmission lines.

A full power collapse may result, or even if this does not happen, fluctuating voltage in the transmission system can cause the grid to become unstable which can impact transformers, relays, capacitors and even the power plant generators. Of course, all of these impacts have significant costs.

The “perfect storm” is brewing. Scientists anticipate stronger solar storms in 2013, and indicate that risks to Earth’s electrical grids are greatest at higher latitudes. Solar storms are global in nature, and could wreak havoc in Canada.

Rather than attempting to minimize the potential impacts of solar storms on our electrical grid in Canada, transmission facility owners continue to plan for and build more overhead high voltage and super-high-voltage power lines. If new high voltage lines were buried, over time, the majority of our grid system would be underground and not susceptible to solar storms.

Read about the many other benefits of burying high voltage power lines.

~ by RETA on August 9, 2011.

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