The study, a joint venture from researchers at Lloyd’s of London and Atmospheric and Environmental Research (AER) in the United States, details a dystopian scenario where a shortage of electrical transformers would leave Western nations without electricity for months because of the time needed to build replacements.
A solar storm occurs when magnetic fields “loop” out of sunspots, releasing huge amounts of energy. These bursts of “plasma”, a superheated, electrically-charged gas, could enter the Earth’s own magnetic field and eventually disrupt networks dependent on electricity on the ground.
Huge surges of electricity flowing unexpectedly into telephone lines, the National Grid and transport networks would overwhelm them, resulting in widespread power failures.
The total cost of such a scenario today in Europe and North America is estimated by Lloyd’s at $2.6 trillion (£1.67tr) for a five-month blackout period, though it could be as low as $0.6tr (£0.39tr).
According to the report, Earth is overdue for such an event, which would normally be expected every 150 years.
“Historical auroral records suggest a return period of… 150 years for very extreme storms,” it reads, adding that “The geomagnetic storm risk is projected to peak in early 2015”.