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The Cost of a Blackout Caused by Space Weather - Windows to the Universe

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Space weather storms can cause lots of damage to electrical power systems. That damage can cost lots of money. Electrical engineers are learning better ways to protect these systems.
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Image courtesy L. J. Lanzerotti, Bell Laboratories, Lucent Technologies, Inc.

The Cost of a Blackout Caused by Space Weather

In 1989 a space weather storm caused an electrical blackout over a large area. Six million people in eastern Canada lost electrical power for 9 hours or longer.

The blackout of the HydroQuebec power grid taught us a lot about how much a solar storm can cost. HydroQuebec, the electrical utility company, lost more than $10,000,000. The blackout cost HydroQuebec's customers somewhere between tens and hundreds of millions of dollars. In some ways this storm was as bad as a hurricane or earthquake in terms of the cost and the number of people affected.

Loss of money wasn't the only problem. Loss of electricity shuts down lots of other things, like public transportation and alarms for security systems. A blackout during cold winter weather could be dangerous for many people. It can take several hours or even days to start electricity flowing again after a blackout.

Scientists are trying to learn how to predict big space weather storms better. That could help prevent blackouts like the one in Canada. That would save a lot of money.

Last modified February 17, 2009 by Randy Russell.

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Windows to the Universe, a project of the National Earth Science Teachers Association, is sponsored in part by the National Science Foundation and NASA, our Founding Partners (the American Geophysical Union and American Geosciences Institute) as well as through Institutional, Contributing, and Affiliate Partners, individual memberships and generous donors. Thank you for your support! NASA AGU AGI NSF