Nav: Home

Extreme space weather-induced blackouts could cost US more than $40 billion daily

January 18, 2017

WASHINGTON, DC -- The daily U.S. economic cost from solar storm-induced electricity blackouts could be in the tens of billions of dollars, with more than half the loss from indirect costs outside the blackout zone, according to a new study.

Previous studies have focused on direct economic costs within the blackout zone, failing to take into account indirect domestic and international supply chain loss from extreme space weather.

"On average the direct economic cost incurred from disruption to electricity represents only 49 percent of the total potential macroeconomic cost," says the paper published in Space Weather, a journal of the American Geophysical Union. The paper was co-authored by researchers from the Cambridge Centre for Risk Studies at University of Cambridge Judge Business School; British Antarctic Survey; British Geological Survey and University of Cape Town.

Under the study's most extreme blackout scenario, affecting 66 percent of the U.S. population, the daily domestic economic loss could total $41.5 billion plus an additional $7 billion loss through the international supply chain.

Electrical engineering experts are divided on the possible severity of blackouts caused by "Coronal Mass Ejections," or magnetic solar fields ejected during solar flares and other eruptions. Some believe that outages would last only hours or a few days because electrical collapse of the transmission system would protect electricity generating facilities, while others fear blackouts could last weeks or months because those transmission networks could in fact be knocked out and need replacement.

Extreme space weather events occur often, but only sometimes affecting Earth. The best-known geomagnetic storm affected Quebec in 1989, sparking the electrical collapse of the Hydro-Quebec power grid and causing a widespread blackout for about nine hours.

There was a very severe solar storm in 1859 known as the "Carrington event" (after the name of a British astronomer). A widely cited 2012 paper by Pete Riley of Predictive Sciences Inc. said that the probability of another Carrington event occurring within the next decade is around 12 percent; a 2013 report by insurer Lloyd's, produced in collaboration with Atmospheric and Environmental Research, said that while the probability of an extreme solar storm is "relatively low at any given time, it is almost inevitable that one will occur eventually."

"We felt it was important to look at how extreme space weather may affect domestic U.S. production in various economic sectors, including manufacturing, government and finance, as well as the potential economic loss in other nations owing to supply chain linkages," says study co-author Edward Oughton of the Cambridge Centre for Risk Studies at Cambridge Judge Business School. "It was surprising that there had been a lack of transparent research into these direct and indirect costs, given the uncertainty surrounding the vulnerability of electrical infrastructure to solar incidents."

The study's scope was guided by a July 2015 conference held at Cambridge Judge.

The study looks at three geographical scenarios for blackouts caused by extreme space weather, depending on the latitudes affected by different types of incidents.

If only extreme northern states are affected, with 8 percent of the U.S. population, the economic loss per day could reach $6.2 billion supplemented by an international supply chain loss of $0.8 billion. A scenario affecting 23 percent of the population could have a daily cost of $16.5 billion plus $2.2 billion internationally, while a scenario affecting 44 percent of the population could have a daily cost of $37.7 billion in the US plus $4.8 billion globally. (The study is calculated using 2011 U.S. dollars.)

Manufacturing is the U.S. economic sector most affected by those solar-induced blackouts, followed by government, finance and insurance, and property. Outside of the U.S., China would be most affected by the indirect cost of such U.S. blackouts, followed by Canada and Mexico - as "these countries provide a greater proportion of raw materials, and intermediate goods and services, used in production by U.S. firms."
-end-
The American Geophysical Union is dedicated to advancing the Earth and space sciences for the benefit of humanity through its scholarly publications, conferences, and outreach programs. AGU is a not-for-profit, professional, scientific organization representing 60,000 members in 137 countries. Join the conversation on Facebook, Twitter, YouTube, and our other social media channels.

Notes for Journalists

This research article is open access for 30 days. A PDF copy of the article can be downloaded at the following link: http://onlinelibrary.wiley.com/doi/10.1002/2016SW001491/pdf.

After 30 days, journalists and public information officers (PIOs) of educational and scientific institutions who have registered with AGU can download a PDF copy of the article from the same link.

Journalists and PIOs may also order a copy of the final paper by emailing a request to Lauren Lipuma at llipuma@agu.org.

Please provide your name, the name of your publication, and your phone number.

Neither the paper nor this press release is under embargo.

Title:

"Quantifying the daily economic impact of extreme space weather due to failure in electricity transmission infrastructure"

Authors:

Edward J. Oughton: Centre for Risk Studies, Judge Business School, University of Cambridge, Cambridge, England;

Andrew Skelton: Centre for Risk Studies, Judge Business School, University of Cambridge, Cambridge, England;

Richard B. Horne: British Antarctic Survey, Natural Environment Research Council, Cambridge, England

Alan W. P. Thomson: British Geological Survey, Natural Environment Research Council, Edinburgh, Scotland;

Charles T. Gaunt: University of Cape Town, Rondebosch, Cape Town, South Africa.

Contact information for the authors:
Edward Oughton: e.oughton@jbs.cam.ac.uk, +44(0) 7920 401571

AGU Contact:

Lauren Lipuma
+1 (202) 777-7396
llipuma@agu.org

University of Cambridge Contact:
Charles Goldsmith
+44 (0)1223 339608
c.goldsmith@jbs.cam.ac.uk



British Antarctic Survey Contact:

Athena Dinar
+44 1223 221441
amdi@bas.ac.uk

American Geophysical Union

Related Space Weather Articles:

Countries most affected by weather disasters do not spend more on weather services
Countries hit hardest by weather-related disasters do not necessarily spend more on commercial weather and climate information services that assist in preparing for these events, a new study finds.
Space weather events linked to human activity
Human activities, like nuclear tests and radio transmissions, have been changing near-Earth space and weather, and have created artificial radiation belts, damaged satellites and induced auroras.
Space weather model simulates solar storms from nowhere
A kind of solar storm has puzzled scientists for its lack of typical warning signs: They seem to come from nowhere, and scientists call them stealth CMEs.
Living with a star: NASA and partners survey space weather science
Storms from the sun can affect our power grids, railway systems and underground pipelines.
Waves on sun give NASA new insight into space weather forecasting
New research has uncovered a mechanism, similar to one that occurs on Earth, which may allow new insights into forecasting space weather and activity on the sun.
Extreme space weather: Protecting our critical infrastructure
Extreme space weather has a global footprint and the potential to damage critical infrastructure on the ground and in space.
Experiment aboard space station studies 'space weather'
To study conditions in the ionosphere, Cornell University research engineer Steven Powell and others in the College of Engineering have developed the FOTON (Fast Orbital TEC for Orbit and Navigation) GPS receiver.
First-ever GPS data release to boost space-weather science
Today, more than 16 years of space-weather data is publicly available for the first time in history.
New space weather model helps simulate magnetic structure of solar storms
A new model is mapping out the path of coronal mass ejections as they travel from the sun to Earth, where these storms can interact with our planet's magnetic fields and cause a variety of space weather effects.
Extreme space weather-induced blackouts could cost US more than $40 billion daily
The daily US economic cost from solar storm-induced electricity blackouts could be in the tens of billions of dollars, with more than half the loss from indirect costs outside the blackout zone, according to a new study.

Related Space Weather Reading:

Best Science Podcasts 2019

We have hand picked the best science podcasts for 2019. Sit back and enjoy new science podcasts updated daily from your favorite science news services and scientists.
Now Playing: TED Radio Hour

Moving Forward
When the life you've built slips out of your grasp, you're often told it's best to move on. But is that true? Instead of forgetting the past, TED speakers describe how we can move forward with it. Guests include writers Nora McInerny and Suleika Jaouad, and human rights advocate Lindy Lou Isonhood.
Now Playing: Science for the People

#527 Honey I CRISPR'd the Kids
This week we're coming to you from Awesome Con in Washington, D.C. There, host Bethany Brookshire led a panel of three amazing guests to talk about the promise and perils of CRISPR, and what happens now that CRISPR babies have (maybe?) been born. Featuring science writer Tina Saey, molecular biologist Anne Simon, and bioethicist Alan Regenberg. A Nobel Prize winner argues banning CRISPR babies won’t work Geneticists push for a 5-year global ban on gene-edited babies A CRISPR spin-off causes unintended typos in DNA News of the first gene-edited babies ignited a firestorm The researcher who created CRISPR twins defends...