Shop Windows to the Universe

Become a nitrogen atom in the nitrogen cycle in our Traveling Nitrogen Classroom Activity Kit/Game. See all our games, activity kits and classroom activities.
It isn't easy to start an electrical power grid back up after it has been shut down completely. Problems can include a lack of spare transformers, "cold start" loads, and the need for electricity to start up a power plant.
Click on image for full size

Problems Restoring Electrical Power After a Blackout

Sometimes a whole electric power system shuts down. This can happen after a strong space weather storm. It is hard to get the whole system running again after it has been shut down all the way.

The main problem is that it takes energy to produce energy. Most kinds of power plants generate electricity from water that has been heated to become steam. The power plants need some electricity to open valves and run pumps before it can boil water to make steam. So the power plant needs some electricity to make more electricity.

Space weather storms can damage expensive transformers. Electric power companies don't keep many spare transformers around because they cost so much - sometimes $10 million or more! It can take up to a year to get a new transformer made. That could mean that a power system might be down for a long time if a big transformer was destroyed.

When you turn on a light bulb, it takes a lot more energy to light it to begin with than it does to keep it going. The same is true for most electrical devices. It can take up to 10 times more power to start something than it does to keep it running. When a power system tries to start back up after a blackout, lots and lots of devices that use electricity try to come on at the same time. They need lots of extra power to start up. That means the electric system needs to make more power than normal. That makes it hard for the system to start back up, too.

Last modified February 18, 2009 by Randy Russell.

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, ranging from seismology, rocks and minerals, oceanography, and Earth system science to astronomy!

Windows to the Universe Community



You might also be interested in:

Cool It! Game

Check out our online store - minerals, fossils, books, activities, jewelry, and household items!...more

Space Weather Effects on Electrical Power Systems

Space weather "storms" can cause problems on Earth. They can even mess up our systems that make electricity. They can also damage the wires and other equipment used to deliver electricity to peoples' houses....more

How Space Weather Can Damage Transformers

We get electricity in our homes and schools from our electrical power system. Did you know that space weather storms can mess up the power system? When that happens, people are left without electricity....more

The Cost of a Blackout Caused by Space Weather

Did you know that a storm in space could cause the lights to go out in your house? That's what happened to people in Canada in 1989. In March 1989 a space weather storm hit Earth. It caused an electrical...more

Direct Current (DC) & Alternating Current (AC) Electricity

There are two types of electrical currents that can flow through wires: direct current (DC) and alternating current (AC). Direct current (DC) electricity flows in the same direction all the time through...more

Problems Restoring Electrical Power After a Blackout

Sometimes a whole electric power system shuts down. This can happen after a strong space weather storm. It is hard to get the whole system running again after it has been shut down all the way. The main...more

Radiation Can Damage Electronics

Radiation can damage electronic circuits. Radiation can also cause electronics to malfunction. Radiation can damage the materials used in electronics over time. That can make the electronics wear out sooner....more

The Magnetic Field

The force of magnetism causes material to point along the direction the magnetic force points. Here's another picture of how this works. This picture shows where the magnetic poles of the Earth are to...more

Windows to the Universe, a project of the National Earth Science Teachers Association, is sponsored in part is sponsored in part through grants from federal agencies (NASA and NOAA), and partnerships with affiliated organizations, including the American Geophysical Union, the Howard Hughes Medical Institute, the Earth System Information Partnership, the American Meteorological Society, the National Center for Science Education, and TERC. The American Geophysical Union and the American Geosciences Institute are Windows to the Universe Founding Partners. NESTA welcomes new Institutional Affiliates in support of our ongoing programs, as well as collaborations on new projects. Contact NESTA for more information. NASA ESIP NCSE HHMI AGU AGI AMS NOAA