- Press Release
- August 10, 2022
Uptick in Solar Activity Parallels Discussion on Effects of Space Weather on the Electrical Grid
Often, our electric grid functions at the whim of the natural world’s powerful forces – wind, lightning, Sun. As the solar cycle ramps back up in activity, the power grid reawakens to the threat of space weather, which has the potential to push the system beyond its tipping point. Space weather is a global and imminent threat. In 2013 it was estimated to have the same likelihood of occurrence as “pandemic influenza,”1 which we are unfortunately now too familiar with. But society is less prepared for a space weather disaster than we were for a pandemic.
Power grids are complex systems and solar activity resulting in geomagnetic storms can wreak havoc on grid infrastructure. Current ability to predict such storms exists, but is only as mature as weather prediction was 50 years ago. This makes clear communication between scientists, emergency managers, and those in charge of the power grid essential. Such communications are often stymied by lack of common vocabulary and technical focus and understanding between the groups.
Orion Space Solutions’ (OSS) Ryan McGranaghan2 and his university and power grid collaborators strive to change this reality through the concept of convergence,3 or a radical merging of innovative ideas, approaches, and technologies from a diverse range of sectors and expertise. Through a National Science Foundation-funded workshop (Award Number: AGS-2131047) and with the understanding that to reimagine grid resilience, data from diverse fields must be open and broadly usable and the traditionally disparate communities must be connected, McGranaghan brought together experts from diverse fields to share expertise and take advantage of the spectrum of innovation, knowledge, and assets available within and across these groups. The group was animated by three questions:
What are the research and development and operational gaps that emerge from a holistic view of the Sun-to-Power Grid system and what solutions can we imagine to address them?
What is the composition of the teams that can create these solutions?
How do we connect these gaps to existing programs and form bridges across them?
“We designed this event based on a convergence approach to Sun-to-Power Grid resilience, recognizing that national-scale societal challenges require transdisciplinary collaboration and novel ways to facilitate it,” says Dr. McGranaghan. “So, we created a simulation game enabling individuals from every part of the system to communicate, learn, and understand.”
The interactions were facilitated through an extreme space weather simulation game–a table-top exercise coupled with simulation and observational data in an interactive environment designed to reveal novel research and development gaps for the Sun-to-power grid system. The game identified linkages across knowledge areas to better anticipate, understand, and respond to effects of space weather on the nation’s power grids.
The three-day workshop generated new understanding about the complex Sun-to-power grid system by converging the range of communities that are involved, identifying research and development and operational gaps, as well as proposing solutions for those gaps. In a close and unique, partnership with RWI Synthetics,4 the group highlighted the human dimension of socio-economic impacts of outage by synthesizing the entire population of Washington DC, including social, economic, and medical details to model individualized impacts of outage on an urban population.
The three days included: the simulation game, synthesizing lessons learned and gaps identified, as well as systems-building, which teamed data scientists and domain scientists and engineers to prototype solutions. Critical outcomes include:
A “Lessons Learned” database that covers ways to achieve convergent interactions and guidance for future Sun-to-power grid interactions;
Enumerated and organized R&D gaps to guide the community in setting policy, prioritizing and directing resources, and identifying new research projects; and
A knowledge base of simulation data, relevant publications, a community exchange platform, and a template for running simulation games.
The workshop is the next step in NSF’s successful Convergence Accelerator Project, the “Convergence Hub for the Exploration of Space Science (CHESS),”5 which pioneered the paradigm-shifting convergent approach to Sun-to-power grid research, development, and operations.
“Space weather is about societal resilience, multiphysics, and multiscale. This simulation game embodied all three facets,” says Dr. Mangala Sharma, Program Director for Space Weather Research at the NSF.
The community the CHESS project has cultivated, along with existing programs and projects in the field, includes representatives from NSF, NASA, Department of Energy, Federal Emergency Management Agency, Federal Energy Regulatory Commission, North American Electric Reliability Corporation , United States Geological Survey , National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration , several national space weather programs, and numerous academic and private institutions.
About Orion Space Solutions: Orion Space Solutions (OSS) was born from the vision to apply fundamental space physics knowledge to real-world problems. Founded in 2005, OSS is a leader in the “New Space” small-satellite industry. We leverage our scientific and engineering expertise to develop unique solutions to address complex space physics disciplines, instrumentation, modeling capabilities, and data analytics; OSS turns science into data, data into knowledge.
Contact: Bill Adams