Feds Want Power Grid Plans for Solar Flares

     WASHINGTON (CN) – The Federal Energy Regulatory Commission has directed electrical grid regulators to address the impact of solar flares on electrical grid operation, according to a new regulation.
     The FERC is requiring the North American Electric Reliability Corporation (NERC) to submit reliability standards that would help protect the power grid from failure in case of a major “geomagnetic disturbance.”
     Geomagnetic disturbances are caused by “space weather,” a term used to describe changes in plasma, magnetic fields, radiation and other matter that is carried through space by solar winds. Geomagnetic disturbances are sometimes called solar flares, which is one cause of the disturbances.
     The FERC, under the direction of the Department of Energy and the Federal Power Act, asked the NERC to implement its directive in two parts. First, the NERC has six months from the rule’s effective date to submit “one or more reliability standards that require owners and operators of the bulk-power system to develop and implement operational procedures to mitigate the effects of geomagnetic disturbances consistent with the reliable operation of the bulk-power system,” according to the FERC’s action.
     The second stage gives the NERC 18 months to develop one or more reliability standards that require owners and operators of facilities connected to the power grid to conduct initial and “on-going” assessments of the potential impact of “benchmark” geomagnetic disturbances on their equipment and on the grid as a whole.
     Space weather is manifested on Earth’s surface as geomagnetically induced currents that travel along the ground and enter into the electrical grid through ground wires or cables that can destroy transformers and many other kinds of equipment. The sun bombarded earth with a solar storm in 1989 that left six million Canadians in Quebec without power for nine hours, according to a report in Scientific American magazine. “The sun frequently emits bursts of matter and energy called flares, which are triggered by a star’s natural magnetic turbulence. Occasionally, however, the sun also belches a billion-ton plume of superheated plasma (ionized gas), known as a coronal mass ejection (CME). If this massive bubble of plasma and radiation is aimed right at Earth, it can pose a serious threat to satellite operations and even to power grids on the ground, along with modern civilization that depends on their electricity,” according to Scientific American.
     The FERC says the country must plan for a major solar event, and the agency is not expecting the NERC to limit its response to the mere development of operational procedures and enhanced training.
     “Rather, the plan must, subject to the potential impacts of the benchmark geomagnetic disturbance events identified in the assessments, contain strategies for protecting against the potential impact of geomagnetic disturbances based on factors such as the age, condition, technical specifications, system configuration or location of specific equipment. These strategies could, for example, include automatically blocking geomagnetically induced currents from entering the bulk-power system,” the FERC said in its action.
     The rule is effective July 22.

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