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Today's Solar Storm Expected to be the Worst Since 2005

While this storm will cause minimal disruption, a more severe event could be devastating

1 min read

UPDATE (January 25, 2012): I've posted the interview with John Kappenman below. He puts the magnitude of this storm in perspective.

On Sunday evening, the sun unleashed a bright solar flare. Along with the flare came a coronal mass ejection, a blast of charged particles that began colliding with the earth's magnetosphere today.

The current storm is expected to be rather moderate, reaching just 2 or 3 on the G-scale, a measure of solar storm intensity that ranges from 1, the least severe, to a maximum of 5. Airlines have diverted flights that were scheduled for polar routes, because the geomagnetic activity can interfere with the high frequency communications systems they use to stay connected to ground control stations.

But as John Kappenman explains in our February cover story, a severe solar storm could wreak havoc on power grids, oil and gas pipelines, and communications networks. Nuclear power plants appear to be particularly vulnerable. The last time we had a truly powerful storm was 1921, and our utter dependence on electrical infrastructure makes us much more vulnerable today. Kappenman notes that Sunday's event wasn't well positioned to cause a direct-hit on earth; had a flare erupted in the same location late last week, the impact here would have been worse.

I'll be chatting with Kappenman later today, and he'll provide an update on today's storm. We'll also discuss what lessons can be learned from the 1989 geomagnetic storm that knocked out power in all of Quebec. Check back here at 3:00 PM EST for more.

The Conversation (0)
This photograph shows a car with the words “We Drive Solar” on the door, connected to a charging station. A windmill can be seen in the background.

The Dutch city of Utrecht is embracing vehicle-to-grid technology, an example of which is shown here—an EV connected to a bidirectional charger. The historic Rijn en Zon windmill provides a fitting background for this scene.

We Drive Solar

Hundreds of charging stations for electric vehicles dot Utrecht’s urban landscape in the Netherlands like little electric mushrooms. Unlike those you may have grown accustomed to seeing, many of these stations don’t just charge electric cars—they can also send power from vehicle batteries to the local utility grid for use by homes and businesses.

Debates over the feasibility and value of such vehicle-to-grid technology go back decades. Those arguments are not yet settled. But big automakers like Volkswagen, Nissan, and Hyundai have moved to produce the kinds of cars that can use such bidirectional chargers—alongside similar vehicle-to-home technology, whereby your car can power your house, say, during a blackout, as promoted by Ford with its new F-150 Lightning. Given the rapid uptake of electric vehicles, many people are thinking hard about how to make the best use of all that rolling battery power.

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