How rooftop solar can prevent the apocalypse

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  • Mon, Mar 30, 2015 - 07:33pm

    #1

    Adam Taggart

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    How rooftop solar can prevent the apocalypse

Here's an article explaining the dangers of a takedown of the US electrical grid and how a distributed national network of rooftop solar installations would offer one of the best defenses against such a dire scenario. The article also details the major obstacles to such a sound idea: politics, and power plays by major utilities:

How rooftop solar can prevent the apocalypse

There is one doomsday scenario that is frighteningly based in actual possibility and for which the U.S. is remarkably and negligently unprotected: the loss of the electric grid.

Here’s how an energy consultant named Chip Register describes a recent conversation he had with former CIA Director James Woolsey:

In a previous article, I had a conversation with former-CIA chief Jim Woolsey to discuss one of America’s greatest national security vulnerabilities, its power grid. The issues that Woolsey has been concerned with for over a decade has been the ease in which a terrorist group or other actor (think North Korea for example) could attack the grid and plunge the country into darkness for months, if not years. And if that seems far-fetched, just recall how a tree limb fell in Ohio in 2003 and blacked out the entire Northeast and part of Canada for several days.

Woolsey describes several scenarios of how the grid could be taken down for an extended period of time by anyone with the means and the will to do the nation, and the world, great harm. His focus was on EMP, or electromagnetic pulse. That’s part of the radiation blast emitting from a nuclear detonation, and it has the effect of rendering all forms of electrical devices useless. Radio, televisions, telephones, and, yes, power stations would all essentially fry from the inside out if exposed to such an event. Permanently.

Still seemed far-fetched? It really isn’t. A very small and unsophisticated nuclear device (which is or could be in the possession of many American foes) could be attached to a weather balloon launched from a boat in the Gulf of Mexico or off of California and floated to the county’s mid-continent where its detonation would have the greatest effect. America would literally go dark. No phones. No money. No heat. No running water. No medicine. No police. Just darkness.

Congressional studies quoted by Woolsey estimate that two-thirds of the population would die of starvation, disease, exposure or violence related to social breakdown in the first twelve months alone.

And to make matters worse, we would never even know what hit us, because we would have no means to investigate, to say nothing of respond. Just darkness.

The idea of an EMP destroying the electric grid isn’t new–the possibility has been known for decades. A well-designed cyber attack could result in the same scenario. But Woolsey, and most people who have tried to raise awareness of the issue, tend to leave out of their descriptions the most important and devastating consequence of grid destruction: the undeniable reality that every nuclear reactor hooked up to the grid would melt down. And the meltdowns of nearly 100 nuclear reactors–and a few fuel pools still at closed reactors–would release enough radiation to make just about the entire nation permanently uninhabitable.

It turns out that the most effective way to protect the grid is also how we get to a clean energy system. The two go hand in hand. As Wellinghoff argues effectively, an electric grid based on distributed generation is an electric grid that is essentially invulnerable to attack, whether through EMP, cyberwar or some other form of assault.

Register’s interview with Wellinghoff gets a little wonky, but is well worth reading and bringing attention to. Who knew that rooftop solar power, for example, is not only good for the environment and the pocketbook, but is essential to protecting national security?

Says Wellinghoff: “If everyone had solar panels on their respective roofs then we could adequately disperse power generation in such a way that it makes nodes [a small number of centralized high voltage substations used in the current grid architecture] practically irrelevant. It is easy to hack into a node and cause it to malfunction but it is basically impossible to hack 10 million solar power systems.”

Click here to read the full article

  • Tue, Mar 31, 2015 - 10:20am

    #2
    james kd6iwd@gmail.com

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    emp takedown of electric grid

I would like to point out that a solar panel is really a large transistor junction and as such would  be  destroyed by a emp event caused by a nuclear  bomb. Stored panels can be protected from an emp event by being first wrapped in paper, and then wrapped in three layers of aluminum foil. This protects the panel from the high voltage emp event. This would work for radios and spare transistors as well.

 

Best Regards

 

Jim

  • Tue, Mar 31, 2015 - 04:38pm

    #3

    Mark_BC

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    And computer hard drives too?

And computer hard drives too? The transistors in those are so tiny and I imagine more vulnerable.

  • Tue, Mar 31, 2015 - 04:51pm

    #4

    Jim H

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    Jim is right…

I was thinking the same thing.. and aside from the panels, many of the other components within the solar energy system could be fried as well in an EMP event.  You would probably want to have not just panels protected (via shielding or creation of some kind of home made Faraday cage) but versions of critical components as well.  Note that Faraday cages should be grounded for best effectiveness.  

  • Wed, Apr 01, 2015 - 12:22am

    #5

    Phaedrus the younger

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    devil’s advocate

Assuming only a single device brings down the grid, presumably only the unprotected devices unfortunate enough to be within the EMP blast radius get fried.   The rest of the continent experiencing grid blackout would be able to use their solar systems.   So the question for me is: how likely will my region be inside the EMP blast radius?

Adam, I like your thinking and it's worth the risk in my mind. 

ps  I am thinking about how to protect my inverter/charger at the very least.   😉

  • Wed, Apr 01, 2015 - 01:08am

    #6

    pinecarr

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    Thanks for bringing this point in the article up, Adam

Thanks for bringing this point in the article up, Adam

"The idea of an EMP destroying the electric grid isn’t new–the possibility has been known for decades. A well-designed cyber attack could result in the same scenario. But Woolsey, and most people who have tried to raise awareness of the issue, tend to leave out of their descriptions the most important and devastating consequence of grid destruction: the undeniable reality that every nuclear reactor hooked up to the grid would melt down. And the meltdowns of nearly 100 nuclear reactors–and a few fuel pools still at closed reactors–would release enough radiation to make just about the entire nation permanently uninhabitable.[bold & italics mine]

I never really thought about this until the Fukushima disaster.  But after that, the 40 watt light bulb went off over my head.  I looked at a map of all the nuclear power plants in the US and I reeaaaaally didn't like what I was seeing.  I'm no expert on this stuff, and so wondered if I was interpreting the potential situation correctly (especially because no one talks about it).  Unfortunately, the article seems to confirm those fears.  How the heck do you mitigate that risk (other than moving to who knows what country)??

  • Wed, Apr 01, 2015 - 01:41am

    #7
    Graffiti

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    Solar and wind

With reference to Jim's comment I think the point is that an EMP event would certainly fry everything in the vicinity but the overall grid could still function…a faraday cage around a solar panel would block the sun . You could not protect yourself. If you happen to live near the EMP event you end up taking one for the team

We still need power at night so wind should be included in this article.

  • Wed, Apr 01, 2015 - 03:29am

    #8
    Mots

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    emp takedown of electric grid

Re: "a solar panel is really a large transistor junction and as such would  be  destroyed by a emp event caused by a nuclear  bomb"

No, not so.  At best a solar panel is a low impedance diode, which already experiences EMP from the environment and is protected as such by devices such as a metal oxide varistor, lightening arrestors and other static pulse protectors.  A trillion volt EMP pulse over a 10000 meters works out to a very small voltage difference at the panel cross section.  Furthermore, punching a small hole in the big panel surface might not even be noticeable (even if an EMP could do that) since the panel output comes from accumulated intact surface area and current flow inherently bypasses such defect for several reasons.   Anyway, solar panels already are protected, to the extent they need it.  I would be much more worried about the shock wave.

 

I started a small company to develop low cost high efficiency neighborhood grids (LocalGrid, LLC) based on our own technology. We make/sell small upload and download boxes to connect panels to a nodal grid you make yourself from wire bought at Home Depot.  Anyone interested seriously in working on this please contact me. We are working in Virginia and in an Asian country on development.

There are many reasons to develop a local grid, even if only between buildings on a farm/estate or between a few friends who live near each other.  We are swimming in an ocean of energy and can have a luxurious lifestyle regardless of what everyone else is doing, if we use appliances with patient scheduling.  I can make coffee and fry potatoes even when it is raining out, because of my more efficient circuitry coupled with cheap abundant solar panels and NO batteries.

Mots

  • Wed, Apr 01, 2015 - 01:42pm

    #9

    LesPhelps

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    Emp and Nuclear Power Plants

Meltdowns may not be  an EMP side effect:

[quote=yahoo best answer]

 I work at a nuke doing electronics. First, there haven't been any new nukes in the US for almost 20 years. This means that electronic technology in this field is minimal. Computers as we know them are a fairly recent technology. Most all safety relaying, (safety meaning required for the safe auto-shutdown of the plant), is done with electro-mechanical relays which are numb to EMP. The safety systems are designed to be "Fail Safe", which means that if a component fails, it fails to a condition that will allow or promote safe shutdown. So….if the power shuts off for some strange reason, the component "fails", etc. Also, if a system has been upgraded due to the lack of parts availability for the old stuff, it has to meet stringent qualifications in order to be acceptable. Nuclear power is one of the safest industries in the world. 
 
[/quote]
 
It's always a good idea to verify things you read on the net.
 
The answer above reminds me of SCUBA equipment, which is designed to fail open.  If it stops working properly, it sends a continuous flow of air to your mouthpiece, rapidly emptying your air supply, but giving you time to reach the surface.  
  • Wed, Apr 01, 2015 - 01:56pm

    #10

    Quercus bicolor

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    what about Fukushima

From what I understand, a recently shut down nuke needs grid power or locally generated backup power (diesel generators usually) to maintain a flow of cooling water.  Diesel for the backup generators can run out in a few days or a week.  At that point cooling water stops flowing and a Fukushima-like meltdown can occur.  Am I wrong?

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