“Can my off grid solar power be damaged by solar flares, CMEs or EMPs?”

The potential for solar Flares, CMEs, or EMPs to damage off grid solar power systems is an issue of concern to our security-focused clients.  In this post, we explain the difference between solar flares, CMEs, and EMPs, their potential impact on battery based off grid solar power systems and ways to be prepared.

What is a solar flare?

Solar Flare

Solar Flare Peaking 4/2/2017. Credits: NASA/Solar Dynamics Observatory

A solar flare is essentially a massive eruption of energy from the surface of the sun. These eruptions are the largest explosive events in our solar system. As a result of the wide spectrum of electromagnetic waves released a solar flare, it can potentially affect the performance of devices such as your radio or GPS.

According to NASA, the energy released by a solar flare is equivalent to millions of 100 megaton hydrogen bombs exploding at once. As alarming as that may sound, it is less than 1/10th of the energy the sun produces every second. The free energy from the sun is a powerful resource.

What is a coronal mass ejection (CME)?

A coronal mass ejection (CME) is also an eruption on the sun’s surface. Basically it differs from a solar flare because CME involves the ejection of coronal matter from the surface of the sun. The matter in a large CME can be up to a billion tons, moving at several million miles per hour. As a result, a planet or spacecraft in its path of the ejected plasma and magnetic fields can be seriously impacted.

Essentially, you can think of a flare as a massive flash of light and a CME as a massive release of the sun’s matter.

CME photo

CME blasting particles into space on 2/27/00, Photo taken by SOHO LASCO C2 and C3. Credit: SOHO ESA & NASA

What is the difference between solar flares and CMEs?

Solar flares and CMEs affect the earth differently.  First of all, solar flares are more likely to affect radio waves and can, in a worse case scenario, temporarily blackout navigation and communication devices.  Secondly, CMEs that makes direct contact with earth can cause electrical grid collapse. Thirdly, CMEs affect a wider range of technologies, like communication systems and power grids, and can do more permanent damage.

Either way, solar flares and CMEs are solar events beyond the control of humans. These naturally occurring “space weather” events, like hurricanes, can be predicted to an extent but can’t be stopped. The most famous impact of this space weather was the Quebec Blackout of 1989, where solar flares knocked out radio signals and a massive CME made contact with the power grid, knocking out power to the city of Quebec for 12 hours. This solar storm even interfered with satellites and the Space Shuttle Discovery.

In essence, solar flares and CMEs are powerful space weather events where electromagnetic waves are released into the atmosphere. Most importantly, neither event releases the more destructive electromagnetic pulses.

What is an electromagnetic pulse (EMP)?

Electromagnetic pulses, also known as EMPs, encompass both natural and human electromagnetic events that are generally unpredictable. EMPs can be caused by lightning strikes or by human events, such as a nuclear weapon detonated at high altitude.

Human caused EMPs are the major concern of our security-focused customers. You don’t need an overactive imagination to think about what might happen in a nuclear event that caused an EMP. A pulse of that magnitude would effectively render anything with a circuit useless.  The impacts on electronics, communications, and the power grid could be far reaching.

Your solar power systems vs. solar flares, CME, and EMP

How will your solar power system cope?

Event
Cause
Damages
Solar Flare
Solar weather
GPS/Navigation
Radio
CME
Solar weather
Communications
Power Grid
EMP
EMP Weapons
Lightning
Nuclear blast
Solar weather
Communications
Electronics
Power Grid

 

Solar panels vs. electromagnetic events

The good news

First of all, we must understand that a solar panel is what we call dummy technology. The panel in itself doesn’t house circuit technology. Your solar panels are a harvesting device collecting energy from the sun. Since there is no circuitry, electromagnetic pulses have little to no effect on your solar panels. Furthermore, the same is true for your battery bank that stores your energy for later use.

Your solar panels and battery bank are not particularly vulnerable to solar flares, CMPs or EMPs.

 

The bad news

Home Solar Power System Inverters

Home Solar Power System Inverters

Your inverters and charge controllers are at risk.

While your panels and batteries are typically unaffected by a massive electromagnetic event, the same is not true for your inverters and charge controllers.

In the case of a solar flare or CME, your inverters will shut down the rest of your solar energy system to protect it from any further damage. Additionally, the inverter itself may, at a minimum, blow a fuse. Of course, this is the best case scenario from events caused by just solar flares or CMEs.

On the other hand, an EMP event can result in catastrophic damage. EMPs can irreversibly damage anything with a circuit in it, including your solar power system inverters and charge controllers. The good news is that almost all other components of your off grid solar setup would be unaffected by the EMP.

Preparing for EMP

Faraday Cage EMP

Faraday cage from thereadystore.com

One way to reduce the effect of electromagnetic pulses on your inverters and charge controllers is to house them in a Faraday cage.

These enclosures of grounded, conductive metal are unaffected, or minimally affected, by unwanted EMPs. The metal mesh of the Faraday cages shields the contents from external electromagnetic fields by distributing the electromagnetic charge throughout the enclosing material.

The simple way to guard against EMP damage is to house your inverters and charge controllers in a Faraday cage. You can buy one or build your own

Managing CEM and EMP Risks

CMEs happen frequently and are less of a worry for solar power. Since solar technology has powered outer space equipment for years without incident, I feel confident concluding that CMEs pose less of a threat to your off grid solar energy system than EMPs.

An EMP occurrence, although unlikely, is unpredictable and can be a real energy threat for our security-focused clients. Using a Faraday cage to protect the inverters and charge controllers can minimize your risk.

Be prepared with a battery backed solar power system

Powering your house with an off grid solar energy system maximizes your chance of maintaining access to electricity following an unexpected electromagnetic event. You can prepare for solar flare, CME, and EMP damage with a battery backed off grid solar power.

The use of battery technology makes it possible to power virtually anything from your off grid solar setup. Ultimately, you decide what to power and when.

If you want the security of knowing you and your family have access to electricity when the SHTF, seriously consider installing a battery based solar power system.