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For those interested in an in-depth analysis of the risk, Lloyd's insurance produced a detailed report last year looking at this issue:

Solar Storm Risk to the North American Electric Grid [PDF]

http://www.lloyds.com/~/media/lloyds/reports/emerging%20risk...

Summary here:

http://www.lloyds.com/news-and-insight/news-and-features/env...

Some key points:

Weighted by population, the highest risk of storm-induced power outages in the US is along the Atlantic corridor between Washington D.C. and New York City.

The total U.S. population at risk of extended power outage from a Carrington-level [estimated to occur every ~150 years] storm is between 20-40 million, with durations of 16 days to 1-2 years.

The wide variation of expected duration is is dependent on the number of transformers destroyed:

If spares are readily available, the total transportation and setup time for a large power transformer can range from a few weeks to months depending on distance and logistical issues. If new transformers need to be ordered, the lead-time is estimated to be between 5-12 months for domestic suppliers, and 6-12 months for international suppliers.




I am wondering: if the large power transformers are the most critical asset, wouldn't it make sense to try to protect them in Faraday cages capable of sustaining high levels of current without melting down? The cost of such cages are likely to be much much smaller than the cost of power outage lasting months or years for millions of people.


A user (growupkids) from the industry posted on this below:

https://news.ycombinator.com/item?id=8078076

>I work in commercial electrical power. No they don't. Because they aren't required to. It's all about costs. So unless it's about known risks (read PRA), no they don't protect against it. You need to spend money where the risks happen.


That would not help. It's the wires attached to the transformer that get the current surge, not the transformer itself.

Plus a Faraday cage would not do anything anyway, the frequency is too low.


> That would not help. It's the wires attached to the transformer that get the current surge, not the transformer itself.

Wouldn't it possible to add automated circuit breakers in case of high current surge then?

> Plus a Faraday cage would not do anything anyway, the frequency is too low.

Low frequency means long wave length, no? I thought that the Faraday cage holes needed to be smaller than the wave length for it to work.


> Wouldn't it possible to add automated circuit breakers in case of high current surge then?

Yes, but a circuit breaker at the voltages and/or power levels involved is not a simple device. They don't have them (due to cost and complexity), and there is a lot of criticism that they don't.

> Low frequency means long wave length, no? I thought that the Faraday cage holes needed to be smaller than the wave length for it to work.

It's both. If the holes are too large then small waves can go right in, but if the wavelength is very large the wave doesn't even notice the cage is there.

A Faraday cage works by picking up and distributing the EMF on all sides of the cage, so the field inside is canceled out. But if the wavelength is too large the cage can not pick up the EMF, and the EMF is present inside the cage. (However with a wave that large is not clear it would do anything to devices inside. The nice long wires of the power grid are perfect for it though.)


Thanks for the clarifications.


So at the moment, there are no transformer spares.

The outage would be 5-12 months to produce them and weeks to months for transport them and install them.

Even with spares, the expected outage can be between weeks and months if the spares aren't near enough.

There are still no spares now.

From the conclusion:

"Since the 1989 Quebec storm and power outage, the Canadian government has invested $1.2 billion (about $34 per person) into protecting the Hydro-Quebec grid infrastructure, installing numerous blocking capacitors44. While these mitigation strategies can be expensive up front (estimated cost of $100k per blocking capacitor for a total of $100 million to protect the 1,000 most vulnerable transformers45), the cost of prevention is much smaller than the cost of the damage a single storm can create."

It seems only Canadians are doing at least something?




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