Protecting Your Electrical Equipment from Solar Flares
By long time RSE student, Mike Bertone
The interaction between the Earth’s magnetic field (magnetosphere) and solar flares is involved and complex. A simple overview therefore is given here to help you understand how to protect electrical equipment vulnerable to intense solar flares, the X-class type, and CMEs (coronal mass ejections – highly energetic particles like protons ejected out of the sun which have much more mass than electrons, approx. 1800x,).
Keep in mind in this discussion, that current in conductors is a flow of free electrons, the loosely bound electrons in an atomic structure.
The above diagram depicts intense electromagnetic (EM) energy waves from the sun passing by the wires of a hydroelectric transmission line. These energy waves induce current in the wires from the generator to the transformers terminating the line. (They also induce circulating current in every metal structure exposed to the elements.) That is, the current is increased in the existing flow of electrons to a point where the current rating of the step-down transformer is exceeded; and the longer the transmission line, the greater the induced current. This literally fries the transformer windings and possibly the transmission line itself – now you have a huge, ugly boat anchor. These large wattage transformers (hundreds of thousands of watts which technically, are identified with VA), both step-down and step-up, are no longer built in North America; and if they are damaged, then what? There are very low inventories of these types of transformers; hence the need for your own off-the-grid system, or a standby generator, or a lot of matches, firewood, and candles.
To protect your own electrical equipment from solar flares, first tune-in to the reports from places like “spaceweather.com” that have accurate reports and timing of solar flares. If there is an X-class flare or CME coming our way, turn-off the main breaker at your electrical distribution panel at least a couple of hours before contact, and if there is nothing else involved in your system, then just review the precautions outlined on the next page. If you have solar equipment, turn-off also the solar panel breakers as well as, the disconnect (switch) at the junction box where the battery wires and solar panel wires terminate.
[Also keep in mind that solar flares are not 5 second, sun bursts. The M-class flare (a 10 fold decrease from X-class type) unleashed Feb 24, 2011 that just missed us, lasted 90 minutes. With any flare, its light (photons) takes about 8 minutes to reach earth. This has little effect on an electrical system. It’s the stuff that comes afterwards (from 6 hours to 3 days) that may deliver a crippling blow.]
Turn the breakers on, after the major thrust of the event is over.
The ground wire in each of the following diagrams is a single conductor, #6, insulated copper wire – the wire is technically, AWG 6. It is readily available from any electrical supply store/distributor. Purchase wire that has green insulation, but not necessary – any color will do as long as it is insulated. This wire must be attached to either a ground rod (10 foot lengths, 5/8 inch diameter, are standard) or a ground plate (galvanized iron plate, 16”x10”x1/4” is standard) with a ground clamp to secure the wire to the rod or plate, as well as the object you are trying to protect. If you have a large metal structure larger than a vehicle, two ground rods or plates, 10 feet apart, are recommended and connected (this is important) exactly like in the diagrams. The ground wire and rod (or plate) act like a drain to charge build-up or induced currents from external EM waves. (Induced currents also set-up their own magnetic fields in metal structures.) Moist earth is a good conductor, and easily absorbs and neutralizes induced current or charge; hence, eliminating the possibility of damaging electronic devices such as the computer on your vehicle, and other electronic equipment in your home.
Note: Avoid dry earth and rock as a base for neutralizing excess charge - these are poor conductors. Bury the ground rod or plate at least one foot below ground level, except the ground rod for a vehicle.
It is impossible to protect a moving vehicle from intense EM waves, unless you work for the military, but not a stationary vehicle. To best protect your vehicle, first, attach your battery booster cables, both alligator clamps of one end (of the cable) to the metal frame (or metal bumper) of the vehicle on a portion that is not painted or insulated, and the other ends of the cable to the ground plate or rod as shown in the diagram below. Remove the radio antenna (most antennas nowadays can be easily unscrewed from their base) and disconnect the positive cable of the battery under the hood. This battery cable is red and connected to the positive battery post – identified with a large “+” symbol.
Note: Whatever means you use to attach the ground wire to a metal object or structure, ensure that the contact point is clean and free from paint and rust. Once secure, re-paint the area if desired to prevent corrosion. Also remember that a bare conductor at a transition point, the point where earth meets air, is perhaps the area most susceptible to corrosion, hence the need for insulated wire, apart from other hazards associated with bare wire.
- Category: Earth Changes