Image contributed by L. J. Lanzerotti, Bell Laboratories, Lucent Technologies, Inc.
The HydroQuebec Lesson
The blackout of the HydroQuebec Power Grid taught us a lot about how much a solar storm can cost. The loss to HydroQuebec was in excess of $10 million dollars. The cost to HydroQuebec's customers is estimated in the 10's to hundreds of millions of dollars. The loss of power to 6 million people during a wide-area blackout puts the cost of this disaster in the same category as hurricanes, and earthquakes.
The True Cost of a Blackout
The cost of a large-scale blackout, regardless of the cause, go far beyond monetary losses. During such an event, critical public services are disrupted, including such things as public transportation and security systems.
| Blackouts that happen to occur during winter cold snaps can be life-threatening due to the shutdown of heating systems. Even heating systems that use other forms of energy are reliant on electricity to operate thermostats and burner controls. Depending on the types of power plants involved, a black out of this scale can potentially last from hours to days.
Space Weather Prediction and Power Grids
As power grids get larger, longer and more complex, their susceptability to space weather induced ground currents increases. Failure of these grids, is not just an inconvenience, but can have major economic impacts and can potentially result in loss of lives. Better prediction of space weather events would allow power companies to take steps to prevent the types of failures that resulted in the HydroQuebec blackout.