A risk assessment framework for the socioeconomic impacts of electricity transmission infrastructure failure due to space weather: an application to the United Kingdom

Edward Oughton


Space weather phenomena have been studied in detail in the peer‐reviewed scientific literature. However, there has arguably been scant analysis of the potential socioeconomic impacts of space weather, despite a growing gray literature from different national studies, of varying degrees of methodological rigor. In this analysis, we therefore provide a general framework for assessing the potential socioeconomic impacts of critical infrastructure failure resulting from geomagnetic disturbances, applying it to the British high‐voltage electricity transmission network. Socioeconomic analysis of this threat has hitherto failed to address the general geophysical risk, asset vulnerability, and the network structure of critical infrastructure systems. We overcome this by using a three‐part method that includes (i) estimating the probability of intense magnetospheric substorms, (ii) exploring the vulnerability of electricity transmission assets to geomagnetically induced currents, and (iii) testing the socioeconomic impacts under different levels of space weather forecasting. This has required a multidisciplinary approach, providing a step toward the standardization of space weather risk assessment. We find that for a Carrington‐sized 1‐in‐100‐year event with no space weather forecasting capability, the gross domestic product loss to the United Kingdom could be as high as £15.9 billion, with this figure dropping to £2.9 billion based on current forecasting capability. However, with existing satellites nearing the end of their life, current forecasting capability will decrease in coming years. Therefore, if no further investment takes place, critical infrastructure will become more vulnerable to space weather. Additional investment could provide enhanced forecasting, reducing the economic loss for a Carrington‐sized 1‐in‐100‐year event to £0.9 billion.