Ghost in the Machine: Solar Flares, the Electrical Grid, and What It All Means to You

This original article was first published in The Dot Connector Magazine, Issue #11.

On August 3, 2010, a C3-class solar flare caused a coronal mass ejection that headed towards the Earth. The impact of the flare resulted in a G2-class geomagnetic storm that lasted almost 12 hours. The official story is that the storm caused beautiful northern lights to appear from Europe to North America. Well, that doesn’t seem so bad, does it?

Nevertheless, there has been a lot of talk lately about solar flares and how a big enough solar flare directed towards Earth could knock out electrical grids.  As we all know, sometimes the mainstream media talks up certain scenarios to scare everyone. Sometimes they just make things up entirely. In this case, I sat up and took notice because the power in southern Europe was flickering that night. Lights would dim in a pulsating fashion. That is a fairly rare occurrence. It is doubly strange because according to conventional wisdom, geomagnetic storms cause aurorae and electrical problems mostly in latitudes closer to the poles.

Obviously, some investigation was in order. First, we need to understand a little something about sunspots, solar flares, and coronal mass ejections.

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The Difference Between Neutral and Earth Ground in AC Installations

Oh dear...If you’ve ever had the pleasure of upgrading old electrical wiring in a residence, you know that a separate earth ground wire was generally not used in the past. In such cases, you find yourself with 2 wires: live, and neutral.

Now, you might want to install a grounded outlet without redoing a lot of wiring. A common method of getting around this little problem is to install the new 3-conductor outlet by tying live to one prong, neutral to the other prong, and then using a jumper wire to connect neutral to the ground connection inside the outlet.

“Theoretically, this should work just fine!” you reason.

It turns out that theoretically, you are in fact correct. Practically speaking, adding a “ground” in a 2-wire installation by tying neutral and ground together has several serious – and possibly dangerous – drawbacks.

Here’s the scoop.

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