Sunday, June 19, 2011

Could a huge solar flare blow out the national grid and leave Britain without electricity? - 19th June 2011

An enormous solar flare expected to hit Britain could blow out the national grid leaving the entire country without electricity, scientists have warned.

Energy Secretary Chris Huhne is considering a raft of options to protect electricity supplies including switching off the national grid entirely causing temporary blackouts.

It is believed that as the sun reaches a peak in activity over the next two years it could unleash a 'class 5' flare, which might knock out computer systems and even throw satellites off course.

Scientists believe the flare would be up to five times more powerful than one which hit Quebec in 1989 and left six million people without power.

The initial blast from the solar flare could reach the earth in a matter of minutes. This would be followed by a second, potentially more dangerous wave of energy which would take up to three days to arrive.

It means the government would have enough time to implement a contingency plan.

This could include switching off the electricity network entirely and ensuring planes are flown at lower altitudes in order to reduce their exposure to radiation.

Ministers are also considering upgrading the nation's power line transformers to make them strong enough to withstand a solar attack.

The government's chief scientist, Sir John Beddington, has warned Mr Huhne that the massive blast of energy from the sun could also affect Britain's defence systems.

Mr Huhne told the Sunday Times: 'The latest scientific research raises the possibility of a severe event with the potential to hit many parts of the grid simultaneously

'That is why the department of Energy and Climate Change is working with the national grid and experts from the UK and US to consider developing better hardware and early warning systems to guard against potential risk from such an event.'

Nasa's Solar Dynamics Observatory reported earlier this month that the sun has woken up from a prolonged period of sleep. Read More