Space Weather Industry Initiative

Quantifying the likelihood and impacts of space weather events

An AER Emerging Risk research program and innovation industry partnership that also taps insights from government and academia.

The problem: space weather risk overview

Space weather events can cause extended power outages for more than 100 million people in the U.S. and result in trillion dollar economic losses. Since numerous industries are vulnerable, our progression into the peak of the next solar cycle over the next five years (through 2016) has heightened concerns about what a severe solar event would mean for the re/insurance industry, national security, and the global economy.

Space weather has the potential to be severe because:

  • Events are continental or even global in scale
  • North American power grid is susceptible to large-scale failures when transformer damage occurs
  • There is no excess supply of transformers, so outages can last for months

The re/insurance relevant impacts from such an event include:

  • Large property losses to space and utility writers
  • Exhausted business interruption limits for large numbers of accounts in affected states
  • Catastrophic content losses to small commercial lines
  • Correlated impacts in financial markets, resulting in enterprise-wide losses
  • Risk of fires as a result of power surges
  • Collateral losses due to civil unrest in a time of prolonged service disruption

Events that cause large-scale impacts are uncommon; because certain space weather damage can be cumulative, each small event increases the vulnerability of our infrastructure.

Initiative research: scope and results

Atmospheric and Environmental Research (AER) scientists are carrying out the research on behalf of market participants in the initiative. Research results:

  • Assessed the risk of covered loss due to widespread, long-duration power outages, which was summarized in a report published by Lloyd's of London titled Solar Storm Risk to the North American Electrical Grid
  • Resulted in a catalog of space weather blackout scenarios for the US
  • Establish the baseline probability of space weather events that are capable of producing severe disruptions to the North American power grid. This includes estimating both the probability of a recurrence of the Carrington Event (1859); and the sequencing and timing of less severe space weather events that can result in equally widespread and prolonged power disruption.
  • Multi-disciplinary initiative to assess the complex, interdependent consequences of each class of space weather event. Quantified the severity, duration and locations of potential power disruption including specific vulnerabilities of the North American power grid.

Initiative management: AER

AER has over 30 years of space environment experience. Our scientists have been publishing peer-reviewed analysis of space weather impacts for fifteen years and contributing to government and industry initiatives including the U.S. Air Force AF-GEOSpace for over a decade. AER’s SEET (Space Environment Effects Tool) software is used by satellite designers and mission planners and operators, and AER's Space Weather Index analyzes the strength and duration of geomagnetic storms.

Among AER’s staff of nearly 200 professionals, more than half are scientists globally recognized for being at the forefront of their scientific fields. Over 85 have Ph.D.’s or advanced degrees. AER's expertise in space, defense, remote sensing, climate change, hydrology, meteorology, oceanography and atmospheric and environmental science, means the company's scientists collaborate closely with experts in government, universities and research laboratories.

More information

To join the Emerging Risk research program or to learn more, please contact Patrick Pollard at AER. Or simply use the contact us web form.