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Posts Tagged ‘electric grid

“You must not fool yourself, and you are the easiest person to fool”*…

One hallmark of superconductivity is the Meissner effect, which expels all magnetic fields from a material — a property that allows a superconductor to levitate, as seen here.

The quest for room-temperature superconducting seems a bit like the hunt for the Holy Grail. A superconductor is a material that will transmit electricity with no resistance– thus very quickly and with no loss. (Estimates of loss in the U.S. electric grid, most of it due to heat loss from resistance in transmission, range from 5-10%; at the low end, that’s enough to power all seven Central American countries four times over.) Beyond that (already extraordinary) benefit, superconductivity could enable high-efficiency electric motors, maglev trains, low-cost magnets for MRI and nuclear fusion, a promising form of quantum computing (superconducting qubits), and much, much more.

Superconductivity was discovered in 1911, and has been the subject of fervent study ever since; indeed, four Nobel prizes have gone to scientists working on it, most recently in 2003. But while both understanding and application have advanced, it has remained the case that superconductivity can only be achieved at very low temperatures (or very high pressures). Until the mid-80s, it was believed that it could be established only below 30 Kelvin (-405.67 degrees Farenheit); by 2015, scientists had gotten that up to 80 K (-316 degrees Farenheit)… that’s to say, still requiring way too much cooling to be widely practical.

So imagine the excitement earlier this month, when…

In a packed talk on Tuesday afternoon at the American Physical Society’s annual March meeting in Las Vegas, Ranga Dias, a physicist at the University of Rochester, announced that he and his team had achieved a century-old dream of the field: a superconductor that works at room temperature and near-room pressure. Interest was so intense in the presentation that security personnel stopped entry to the overflowing room more than fifteen minutes before the talk. They could be overheard shooing curious onlookers away shortly before Dias began speaking.

The results, published in Nature, appear to show that a conventional conductor — a solid composed of hydrogen, nitrogen and the rare-earth metal lutetium — was transformed into a flawless material capable of conducting electricity with perfect efficiency.

While the announcement has been greeted with enthusiasm by some scientists, others are far more cautious, pointing to the research group’s controversial history of alleged research malfeasance. (Dias strongly denies the accusations.) Reactions by 10 independent experts contacted by Quanta ranged from unbridled excitement to outright dismissal…

Interesting if true– a paper in Nature divides the research community: “Room-Temperature Superconductor Discovery Meets With Resistance,” from @QuantaMagazine.

* Richard Feynman


As we review research, we might pause, on Pi Day, for a piece of pi(e)…


… in celebration of Albert Einstein’s birthday; he was born on this date in 1879.


“Everything should be made as simple as possible, but not simpler.”

Written by (Roughly) Daily

March 14, 2023 at 1:00 am

“The grid is awesomely complex. It is the largest machine in the world.”*…


solar flare

Solar Flare (upper left), May 28, 2020


The Sun emitted its largest solar flare since 2017 on Friday, indicating that our star may be awakening from a quiet period that has lasted several years. Though the flare erupted on the opposite side of the Sun from Earth, NASA’s Solar Dynamics Observatory was able to detect its glow above the solar surface, which is visible in the upper left corner of the above image…

Solar flares, sudden bursts of light blasted out by the Sun, are sometimes accompanied by arcing ejections of hot plasma from the star. These flashes normally show up in the same area as sunspots, which are dark patches of the solar surface that are slightly cooler than other parts of the Sun.

Our star experiences solar cycles that last about 11 years and are timed by the number of sunspots visible on the surface: peak activity correlates to the largest numbers of sunspots in a cycle, while a relatively spotless Sun is considered to be in hibernation. The last cycle started in 2008, and produced a major solar storm in 2012.

These storms also cause extremely bright and vivid auroras, popularly called the Northern and Southern Lights, as the glut of charged particles from a more energetic Sun illuminates the skies. However, past incidents show that extremely powerful flares and ejections—which blast out powerful surges of X-ray and UV radiation—can also scramble satellite systems and even cause energy failures on Earth, such as a blackout in March 1989 that left millions of people in Québec without power…  (source and more info)

Indeed, after the 1989 event, earth had a near miss when the effects of a much more powerful storm barely passed us by…

Back in 2012, the Sun erupted with a powerful solar storm that just missed the Earth but was big enough to “knock modern civilization back to the 18th century,” NASA said.

The extreme space weather that tore through Earth’s orbit on July 23, 2012, was the most powerful in 150 years, [see here for info on that earlier storm] according to a statement posted on the US space agency website Wednesday.

However, few Earthlings had any idea what was going on.

“If the eruption had occurred only one week earlier, Earth would have been in the line of fire,” said Daniel Baker, professor of atmospheric and space physics at the University of Colorado…. (source and more info)

The damage, should another huge solar storm hit, could be massive– but wouldn’t be evenly distributed…

solar effect

This map shows 100-year storm-induced voltages on the national electric power grid

A new study about solar-induced power outages in the U.S. electric grid finds that a few key regions—a portion of the Midwest and Eastern Seaboard—appear to be more vulnerable than others…

Solar flares and other solar-mass ejections that travel through space can slam into Earth’s atmosphere and generate powerful electric and magnetic fields. These magnetic storms can occasionally be intense enough to interfere with the operation of high-voltage electricity lines.

Depending on the geology of a given region, the currents a geomagnetic storm induces in the power lines can destabilize the power grid’s operation and cause damage to (or even destroy) transformers….

Utilities in those [most vulnerable] regions need to know that power disturbances and outages—and possibly blown transformers—are more likely in the case of a big solar storm hitting Earth.

In a worst-case scenario… portions of the electric grid without enough backup transformers and other equipment could find themselves unable to operate until they can swap in backup systems. Of course, if there are not enough transformers and other devices, many in the hardest-hit regions could be without power for days or weeks until equipment could be delivered or built from scratch…

The worst-case scenario, the one that keeps grid experts up at night, happened last in 1859. It originated in a solar flare that blasted off the solar surface on 1 September 1859 and was observed by the English amateur astronomers Richard Carrington and Richard Hodgson.

Fortunately, when the “Carrington Event” hit Earth, the world had precious little electric infrastructure to disturb. It was mostly telegraph wires along railway lines that felt any high-voltage surges.

“There’s some expectation that if we were to have a repeat of the 1859 storm, it could have some substantial effects on the electric power grid and other technology that modern society depends upon,” [USGS research geophysicist Jeffrey] Love said. And because so many of today’s electrical systems are built around computer chips that are not robust to high-voltage surges, the fear is that a modern-day Carrington event could also blow out some portion of our computerized world…  (source and more info)

What can we do about it?  We can urge utilities (and their regulators) to expand and extend the emergency transformer stockpile (Grid Assurance) and to shore up the grid’s resilience to electromagnetic pulses.

As though we need one more thing about which to be concerned…

* Gretchen Bakke, The Grid: The Fraying Wires Between Americans and Our Energy Future


As we have a sunny day, we might spare a thought for Joseph Ritter von Fraunhofer; he died on this date in 1826.  A  physicist and optical lens manufacturer, he made optical glass and achromatic telescope objective lenses, invented the spectroscope, and developed diffraction grating.  But he is perhaps best remembered for his discovery of the dark absorption lines in the spectrum of the sun (created by selective absorption of those wavelengths by the atoms of different elements)– now, appropriately, known as Fraunhofer lines.

220px-Joseph_v_Fraunhofer source


Written by (Roughly) Daily

June 7, 2020 at 1:01 am

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