The sun is a source of life on Earth, but it also presents dangers to us. Coronal mass ejections and geomagnetic storms can wreak havoc on our infrastructure, especially on electric grid networks. On March 13, 1989, a geomagnetic storm disabled the Hydro-Québec power network causing a 9-hour blackout for 6 million people. The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration and National Aeronautics and Space Administration actively monitor these events and issue warnings to ensure that potentially affected networks can take protective actions. Given the potential for sizable impacts, NOAA’s National Environmental Satellite, Data, and Information Service wanted to know the economic value of this information.
ERG’s built a set of estimates based on research conducted by the U.S. Department of Energy on the impacts on blackouts. We developed the model to allow NOAA to estimate impacts at varying levels of geomagnetic storms and at varying population sizes. Although small more common storms generate small impacts, we found that larger storms could generate impacts exceeding one billion dollars. Our estimates provided a strong basis for NOAA and NASA to justify additional funding for satellite surveillance of these storms to ensure that U.S. electricity grids are protected.