Space weather generates electrical currents in Earth's atmosphere. Those currents can induce electrical currents in the electrical power distribution system. Large space weather "storms" can interfere with the normal flow of electricity in the grid.
Click on image for full size
Image courtesy John G. Kappenman, Minnesota Power, Duluth, Minnesota.
Space Weather Effects on Electrical Power Systems
Space weather "storms" can cause problems for the systems we use to generate and transmit electrical power here on Earth. In extreme cases, large space weather events can even cause massive blackouts over large areas. In March of 1989 six million people in eastern Canada lost their electrical power for nine hours or longer because of such an event.
Our electrical systems are designed to use alternating current (AC) electricity. Space weather disturbances can cause large flows of direct current (DC) electricity in power transmission wires. Electrical systems use very high voltage electricity to transmit power over long distances from power plants to peoples' homes and to businesses. However, high voltage electricity is dangerous, so the power is converted to lower voltage before it is delivered to homes and other users. Transformers are devices that convert high voltage electricity to lower voltage electricity.
Transformers work fine with AC electricity, but can be damaged or destroyed if too much DC electricity flows into them. That's what can happen during big space weather storms. If many transformers fail at once, the whole electrical system over a large area can go down. That's how space weather can cause a blackout.
Shop Windows to the Universe Science Store!
Our online store
includes issues of NESTA's quarterly journal, The Earth Scientist
, full of classroom activities on different topics in Earth and space science, as well as books
on science education!
You might also be interested in:
There are two types of electrical currents that can flow through wires: direct current (DC) and alternating current (AC). Direct current (DC) flows in the same direction all the time through an electric...more
Electric currents in Earth's atmosphere can induce currents in our planet's crust and oceans. Electromagnetic induction works on a grand scale during space weather disturbances. Currents as large as a...more
The transformer is not a power source. It functions like a lever to convert a small voltage pushing a large electric current into a large voltage pushing a small electric current or vice versa. The power...more
Power grids were not designed to fail completely and be started-up all at once. The basic problem is that it takes energy to produce energy. Hydroelectric, steam and nuclear power plants all require energy...more
In March 1989 a space weather storm caused the failure of the entire HydroQuebec electrical power system in eastern Canada. Six million people lost electricity for nine or more hours. The blackout of the...more
Earth's global magnetic field generates a huge cavity or bubble in space, the magnetosphere, which shields our planet from most of the solar wind. Some solar wind particles do leak in and combine with...more
The Sun is surrounded by a "bubble" in space called the heliosphere. In a sense, we Earthlings live within the outer atmosphere of our Sun. The solar wind fills the heliosphere with energetic...more