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Solar Radiation, The Good And The Evil

Solar energy is typically viewed as a very positive resource. Not only does solar energy help produce our food, recently we’ve seen a boom in photovoltaic electrical systems because we’ve gotten much better at converting sunlight into electricity.
As we all know, the solar system operates in cycles. During the past decade the sun has been in a lower energy producing cycle which some described as the sun sleeping. It now appears that the sun is waking up and over the next few years will begin its next cycle. That means we will experience more sunspots and an increased amount of solar radiation. The solar cycles build slowly and one is currently under way. Experts expect solar radiation will peak in 2011 and 2012.
That's good news for people who have solar panels but it may wreak havoc on our high tech, mobile device society that we enjoy today. Solar storms can have a big effect and most are not positive outcomes. During a solar storm, if a plane flies over the poles, space radiation can cause radio blackouts, navigation errors and computers to reboot. Solar storms can also disable satellites that we use for weather forecasting, GPS navigation and communications. Radio bursts from solar flares can directly interfere with cell phone reception and the coronal mass ejections (CME) can cause electrical outages. In 1989 a CME caused an outage in Québec that lasted for six days.
While much of the intensity from solar activity is not expected to peak until 2011 and 2012 there isn’t much we can do to prevent the negative impact or prepare for it. Solar forecasting is becoming increasingly important as our connected world has gone digitally wireless and broadband. CME ejections take 2 to 5 days to reach earth. Satellites can be placed in sleep mode to protect it from damage but will result in a big disruption to businesses and consumers. What does this mean to the semiconductor industry? We may experience increase demand for replacement parts for normally healthy equipment such as cell phones or notebooks that have burned out or been damaged from intense solar activity.
Just be ready for a few interruptions.
Jim Feldhan, President

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