11-14-2012, 05:29 PM
Join Date: Aug 2006
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Solar Flares and Solar Winds
I have been curious about the unusual weather this year and happened to come across this article very recently. It’s a about lawyers warning insurers about solar risks. Does anyone have insights or thoughts?
Increasing threat posed by solar flares leaving underwriters in the dark
Posted By Barbara karouski On 14/11/2012 @ 8:23 PM
Power and utility underwriters may be unaware of the extent of the threat major solar flares pose to the world’s electrical generation infrastructure. That was the message from a specialist lawyer and space weather expert to underwriters and brokers at last week’s London Power Forum.
Jason Reeves from the US law firm of Zelle, Hofmann, Voelbel & Mason LLP said that underwriters’ current wordings were inadequate as far as damage resulting from the geomagnetic-induced currents created by a major solar flare was concerned. Mr Reeves noted some experts and officials believe a major solar event, such as those experienced in 1859 and 1921, could be a civilisation-changing event because of the potential widespread and long-lasting damage to the power grid and power stations. The effects could be particularly severe on the eastern seaboard of the US where geological conditions serve to amplify the effects of a so-called solar storm.
Mr Reeves said: “While power companies have spent lots of money protecting themselves against lightning strikes, with some notable exceptions, little money has been spent on protecting equipment from solar flares.
“I haven’t seen any wording that particularly deals with solar flares yet these could create very large scale problems. It can take 14 months to replace a power transformer, assuming lots of other people don’t need them too, and many transformers are bespoke.
“I don’t think insurance was designed to deal with a major solar event – to rebuild western civilisation. That’s the job of governments. Less dramatically, insurers face attritional losses where infrastructure is prematurely aged as a result of geomagnetically-induced currents.
“Insurers should consider excluding solar flares, sub-limiting coverage or perhaps offering bespoke solar flare cover. They also need to consider their other risks such as space, telecoms, aviation, and CBI – anything that relies on electricity or GPS.”
Earlier in the presentation, Bill Murtagh from the NOAA Space Weather Prediction Centre in the US (http://www.swpc.noaa.gov) explained the sun-spot cycle which leads to increases in solar flare activity every 11 years. Even during some of the less severe peaks, notably in 1859 and 1921, very large flares occurred which had a major impact on Earth. In 1859, the flare triggered fires, affected rail signalling equipment and led to the northern lights being visible as far south as the Caribbean.
Mr Murtagh advised that the planet is increasingly vulnerable to hazardous space weather due to society’s greater reliance on technology and space-based systems, and the interconnectivity and interdependency of infrastructure.
Following a major solar flare, which could release energy equivalent to 100 million hydrogen bombs, the coronal mass ejection takes 18–100 hours to reach Earth, where it creates electrical currents that can flow into the power grid leading to voltage drops, transformer damage and ultimately grid failure. GPS satellites, used by the power industry and others to coordinate activities, can be affected as can the high frequency communications used by the aviation sector.
Space weather is defined as the variable conditions of the sun and the space environment that can influence the performance and reliability of space and ground based technology systems, as well an endanger life or health.
The NOAA Space Weather Prediction Centre issues alerts on increased solar activity on a scale of G1–G5, with G5 being the most intense. Even a moderate level storm can affect power generation equipment.
Mr Reeves and Mr Murtagh were speaking at the London Power Forum at the East Wintergarden, Canary Wharf on Tuesday 6 November. The event, which began in 2007, is organised by five London insurance market power specialists: AEGIS London, Catlin, Chartis, Torus and Travelers. Its aim is to provide a specialist forum for underwriters, brokers and loss adjusters working in the power utility market.
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