December 4, 2011

Solar Activity Threatening Global Blackouts

With an extended period of solar activity set to start as early as next year, storms originating from the sun could cause widespread blackouts and massive economic losses, a German insurance firm has predicted.

The study, which was the work of Allianz, is the topic of a December 2 article by Reuters reporter Ethan Bilby which states that the "upcoming cycle of stormy solar activity risks causing damage to electrical transformers and threatening vulnerable energy infrastructure around the globe."

The sun, which Bilby says follows a "predictable" 11-year-long cycle of activity, and the next period of stormy activity could begin in 2012 or 2013. While Allianze says that a high-impact solar storm's impact on the planet and the global economy is hard to predict due to the rarity of such an occurrence, Reuters says that it "could cause blackouts and economic losses of over $1 trillion and that the worst case scenario would be even worse."

In November 2011 by the Chief Risk Officer (CRO) Forum, currently chaired by Allianz, published a position paper entitled "Power Blackout Risks: Risk Management Options."

In that report, the CRO wrote, "A downside of renewable energy particularly, wind and solar technologies, is the volatile supply of power. Not only may a scarcity of electricity result in a power blackout, but an oversupply can also lead to grid instabilities as they alter the frequency within the network."

"Renewable energies such as solar and wind are having“¦ more and more of a negative impact because their availability fluctuates considerably," added Allianz Risk Consultant Michael Bruch, in a Q&A session posted on the company's official website. "Also, as more and more grids are interconnected, a blackout in one region can trigger a domino effect. Aging infrastructure only makes that situation more critical."

According to Bilby, one large explosion on the sun's surface could result in the release of billions of tons of "superheated magnetically charged gas" travelling as fast as a million miles per hour. Once that gas hits Earth's magnetic field, it could be the catalyst for a large solar storm, which could in turn lead to a severe disruption which experts have told Reuters could last for weeks or months.

"Long-lasting power failures would have a significant impact on our daily life and the entire economy," Allianz Risk Consultant Markus Aichinger added on the insurance company's homepage. "Just imagine: critical infrastructure such as communication and transport would be hit, the heating and water supply would stop and production and commerce would come to a halt."

"You couldn't even call emergency numbers, and hospitals would only be able to work as long as there's fuel for the emergency power generator to work. Cash machines would simply stop working, and shops would close. And higher-end financial trading would totally shut down," he added.


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