Article fromBusiness Week
July 19, 1999
Developments to WatchSection, page 76
An 11-Year cycle of solar activity has begun, heralding disruptive geomagnetic disturbances on earth. In past cycles, storms on the sunís surface have wreaked havoc with communications satellites and power grids. But help is at hand, thanks to a team effort by Metatech Applied Power Solutions in Duluth, Minn., and the Electric Power Research Institute. Using NASA satellite data provided by the National Oceanic & Atmospheric Administration, Metatech and EPRI can alert utilities when the first waves of charged particles reach earth after being hurled into space by solar phenomena known as "coronal mass ejections".
Metatechís system will sound alarms before the solar particles begin to disrupt earthís magnetic field, thus inducing swirling electrical currents that can knock out regional power grids. Such events arenít trivial. A geomagnetic storm in March, 1989, brought down the Hydro Quebec power-transmission system, leaving 6 million people without electricity for nine hours. The new alerts will give utilities up to 45 minutesí warning--enough time to begin stockpiling energy and switch off the most sensitive equipment.