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An Overview of the National Academy of Sciences Report on Severe Space Weather and the Vulnerability of US Electric Power Grid
Metatech Corporation January 11, 2009 Early this week the National Academy of Sciences released the report Severe Space Weather EventsUnderstanding Societal and Economic Impacts Workshop Report. This report in particular has noted the vulnerability of the electric power grid to severe geomagnetic storms (created by solar activity) and that severe geomagnetic storms pose a risk for long term outages to major portions of the North American power grid. While a severe storm is a low-frequency occurrence event, it has the potential for long duration catastrophic impacts to the power grid and its affected users. The impacts could persist for multiple years with potential for significant societal impacts and with economic costs that could be measurable in the several Trillion Dollars per year range. These report assessments largely stem from input to the panel provided by Metatech Corporation and are indeed more fully discussed on pages 77-79 of the report and also in the report summary and appendices. Metatechs analysis was carried out for investigations under the auspices of the EMP Commission (established by Congress under the provisions of the Floyd D. Spence Defense Authorization Act of 2001, Public Law 106-398, Title XIV) and also for FEMA under Executive Order 13407 to examine the potential impacts on the U.S. electric power grid for severe geomagnetic storm events. We have also provided testimony to Congress (before the U.S. House Subcommittee on Environment, Technology, and Standards and the Subcommittee Hearing on What is Space Weather and Who Should Forecast It? on October 30, 2003). Similar assessments for other important world power grids, including those in England, Norway, Sweden, Japan and portions of Canada have also been performed by Metatech. What are the Risks and Frequency of Severe Geomagnetic Storms? Significant power grid impacts in present day networks have been observed at relatively low levels of geomagnetic field disturbance intensity. For example the Quebec grid blackout during the March 13-14, 1989 storm occurred at a peak intensity derivative of 480 nT/min and permanent damage to large power transformers have occurred at even lower levels. An analysis conducted by Metatech of both contemporary and historic storm data and records indicates that dBh/dt impulsive disturbances larger than 2000 nT/min have been observed on at least three occasions since 1972 at latitudes of concern for power grid infrastructures in the U.S. In extreme scenarios (estimated to be ~1 in 100 years), available data suggest that disturbance levels as high as 5000 nT/min may have occurred during the great geomagnetic storm of May 1921, an intensity ~10 times larger than the disturbance levels associated with the major impacts observed on North American power grids in March 1989. Why is a blackout from a Severe Geomagnetic Storm different from other power blackouts (such as August 2003)? The August 2003 Blackout affected a large area of the Eastern U.S. Most power was restored within 2436 hours. From our analysis, both the size of the blackout and the recovery from the blackout due to a large geomagnetic storm would be unprecedented in size (Figure 1a) and duration. This extended recovery would be due to permanent damage to key power grid components (especially Extra High Voltage [EHV] transformers) caused by the unique nature of the electromagnetic disturbance. Full recovery could plausibly extend into years in many parts of the impacted regions. The most troubling aspect is the possibility of an extremely slow pace of restoration from such a large power outage and the interdependencies that could cripple other infrastructures such as water, transportation, and communications due to the prolonged loss of the electric power grid supply. In the impacted areas this would lead to the loss of potable water distribution within several hours, the loss of perishable foods and

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medications in about 12-24 hours, and the immediate (or eventual) loss of heating/AC, sewage, phones, transportation, fuel re-supply, etc. What is the assessment of permanent damage to the power grid, and why would it take so long to recover? In recent analyses that have been conducted, it is estimated that over 300 large EHV transformers would be exposed to sufficiently high levels of geomagnetically induced current (GIC) to place these units AtRisk of failure or permanent damage requiring replacement. Figure 1b provides an estimate of Percent Loss of EHV transformation capacity by state for a 4800 nT/min geomagnetic storm threat environment. Such large-scale damage would likely lead to prolonged restoration and long term chronic shortages of



Figure1.(1a)4800nT/mingeomagneticfielddisturbanceat50 geomagneticlatitudescenario.Theregionsoutlinedaresusceptibletosystemcollapseduetothe effectsoftheGICdisturbance,andtheregionimpactedwouldbeofunprecedentedscale(populationsinexcessof130million). (1b) A map showing the AtRisk EHV Transformer Capacity by state for this disturbance scenario; regions with high percentages could experience long duration outagesthatcouldextendmultipleyears.

electric energy supply capability to the impacted regions. In areas with a high degree of loss, restoration of any grid capacity may be very difficult until replacement transformers can be obtained and installed. The current world market conditions for the purchase of new EHV transformers are a major concern for any power system operator that would need to acquire a new transformer under emergency conditions. In order to support work recently done on Executive Order 13407 for FEMA assessing the vulnerability of the U.S. Grid due to large geomagnetic storms, Metatech commissioned a study of the supply capability of the current world manufacturing capability for EHV transformers. A number of items of concern can be noted from this study. Manufacturing capability in the world for EHV-class transformers continues to be limited relative to present market demand for these devices. Further, manufacturers would be unable to rapidly supply the large number of replacement transformers needed should the U.S. or other power grids suffer a major catastrophic loss of EHV Transformers. Manufacturers presently have a backlog of nearly 3 years for all EHV transformers (230 kV and above). The earliest delivery time presently quoted for a new order is early 2011. Only one plant exists in the U.S. capable of manufacturing a transformer up to 345 kV. No manufacturing capability exists in the U.S. at present for 500 kV and 765 kV transformers, which represent the largest group of At-Risk transformers in the U.S.

Is this a Growing Problem of Power Grid Vulnerability to Geomagnetic Storms? Trends have been in place for several decades that have acted to unknowingly escalate the risks from space weather to this critical infrastructure. As the size and complexity of the power grid has grown nearly tenfold over the past 50 years, it has in essence become a larger and more efficient antenna that

Metatech Corporation 358 S. Fairview Ave., Suite E Goleta, California (805) 683-5681 Reg istered Mail: P.O. Box 1450 Goleta, California 93116

couples to disturbances in the Earths magnetic field during a storm. Electric energy supply continues to grow and is the largest segment of energy usage in the U.S. economy accounting for nearly 40% of all energy consumed (in contrast, petroleum accounts for only 22% of current U.S. energy consumption). Unlike other more familiar threats such as seismic events or high winds where rigid infrastructure design codes have been developed and are closely followed, no formal design codes exist that counter the potential impacts of geomagnetic storms exists. Are there any ways at present to prevent power grid blackouts? Present operational procedures utilized by U.S. power grid operators largely stem from experiences in recent storms including the March 1989 storm. However, these present U.S. Grid Operational Procedures are based largely on limited experience, generally do not reduce GIC flows and are unlikely to be adequate for historically large disturbance events. Given the potentially enormous implications of power system threats due to severe space weather, it is important to develop effective means to prevent a catastrophic failure of this infrastructure. The most important means to reduce risk is to reduce the coupling mechanism from the disturbance environment to the electric power grid. This coupling causes the flow of a Geomagnetically-Induced Current (GIC) that is the root cause of all power grid problems. Preliminary work undertaken for the EMP Commission indicates remedial measures to reduce GIC levels are needed and are cost-effective. The installation of supplemental transformer neutral ground resistors to reduce GIC flows is relatively inexpensive, has low engineering trade-offs, and can produce 60-70% reductions of GIC levels for storms of all sizes. The EMP Commission has estimated the cost of this hardening in the existing U.S. power grid infrastructure to be on the order of $150 million. New economic stimulus measures may be undertaken soon to boost the production of renewable electric energy, particularly wind generation, which has the greatest potential for being produced in the Midwestern U.S. While the development details are still very preliminary, most large developments would require the construction of an extensive new network of 765 kV transmission lines to deliver this energy to major metropolitan areas in the Eastern and Western U.S. This could result in a seven-fold increase of the existing U.S. 765 kV transmission network infrastructure should it be developed, and it would greatly escalate the vulnerability of the U.S. to geomagnetic storms, as higher voltage transformers are more vulnerable to geomagnetic storms. Since effective measures to reduce GIC levels can be provided at relatively low-cost, they should be considered in association with any infrastructure development stimulus plans and incorporated into the existing infrastructure as well. Contact Information: Mr. John Kappenman, Dr. William Radasky, General Information, Phone Contact in Goleta, California, +1-805-683-5681 For copies of storm animations, prior Congressional Testimony and other general information visit our website at: Metatech Space Weather Advisory Page - The National Academy of Sciences Report can be downloaded in pdf form at:

Metatech Corporation 358 S. Fairview Ave., Suite E Goleta, California (805) 683-5681 Reg istered Mail: P.O. Box 1450 Goleta, California 93116