NO RETURN TO THE STONEAGE
It is hard to quantify how serious and pervasive a sudden and complete loss of electrical power could be for a modern economy, but this is precisely what a 2008 report from the U.S. National Academy of Sciences tried to do. The result was alarming.
The effects of an extended outage lasting more than a few hours would include, it said, “disruption of the transportation, communication, banking, and finance systems, and government services; the breakdown of the distribution of potable water owing to pump failure, and the loss of perishable foods and medications because of lack of refrigeration.”
A separate NASA-backed report in 2007 estimated a Carrington-scale solar storm would cost the satellite operators a minimum of $30 billion.
That’s without the loss of revenues to the telecoms and broadcasting companies that rely on them and the hole it could leave in military security networks.
Andrew Richards said National Grid started commissioning research on the threat around 1996 and the company now monitors solar activity on a daily basis.
“We want to be prepared if something did happen,” he said. “There is a human tendency that if it hasn’t happened for a long time, to forget all about it.”
That rarity makes the risk hard to quantify. “It’s very hard to say how bad it could possibly be,” he says. “The sun could explode and we would all die, but modeling based on the most extreme events that we know of says we do not believe a catastrophic return to the stone age is on the cards.”