The Sun is our friend: vitamin D, solar power, and photosynthesis, the basis of life as we know it.
But Black Hills science writer Stan Gibilisco points out that the Sun is dangerous. He's not talking about wrinkles; he's talking about coronal mass ejections:
I'd call coronal mass ejections star farts—NASA refers to them as "giant bubbles of gas... ejected from the Sun"—but that appellation might trivialize the civilization-busting power of such storms. International insurer Lloyd's takes coronal mass ejections seriously; so should we all. Gibilisco thinks we ought to harden our electronic infrastructure to prevent a coronal mass ejection from shutting down GPS, satellites, the Internet, and the national power grid for weeks or months:
Among other preparations, we could brace for coronal mass ejections by stockpiling large power transformers to replace those that a strong solar storm would fry. Large power transformers cost $2.5 million to $7 million to manufacture, plus maybe 30% overhead to ship and install. Multiply by 2100, and you have a cost of $15 billion. That's no small expenditure... but during the last decade, were spending that much defending American interests in Iraq every 21 days.
But the electric utilities don't have a CME-response stockpile of large power transformers, because free-market competition stops them from preparing for disaster:
A major problem with protecting the national power grid is that it consists of 2100 high voltage transformers run by an assortment of 5000 or so independent entities. One speaker (Dr. Michael Gregg) estimated that it would require a relatively few million dollars to protect some valuable components of the electric power system. However, following these remarks, it came to light during the discussion session that such a measure has lacked support owing to legal and business constraints by these 5000 entities in competition with one another. It probably goes without saying that politicians are not going to enter that fray. Nor would they be willing to budget the much greater expense of acquiring and storing backup high voltage transformers. The threat to nuclear power plants (see: Are nuclear reactors vulnerable to solar storms?) was hardly mentioned [Steve Tracton, "Are We Ready for Potentially Disastrous Impacts of Space Weather?" Washington Post: Capital Weather Gang, 2012.07.11].
Our failure thus far to respond to Gibilisco's call for sensible solar storm preparation is one of the impacts of partisan gridlock and anti-science sentiment in Congress. Dust-ups about EPA efforts to regulate carbon emissions have tangled passage of the NASA budget. Members of Congress don't go on Fox to rail against the Sun, because science-based warnings that the Sun will wreck modern civilization don't raise nearly as much campaign money as Limbaugh-parroting cries that Candidate X is a Barack Obama Marxist waging war on coal.
If the next big coronal mass ejection hits the earth, who made the most profit on utility stocks and who raised the most campaign donations will instantly become irrelevant. Power companies and Congress need to think a bit more on the cosmic scale and protect our modern civilization from the threats Old Sol throws at us.