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Inspired by the question On an Earth regularly ravaged by solar storms as strong as as the Carrington Event, how would technology advance?

On a world that is ravaged by monthly Carrington Events, it seems that while a civilization can become adept in mechanical technology and simple batteries, they would not be able to develop technology based off of electricity like we have on Earth.

With that said, is there any way for such a civilization to develop electricity on a massive scale?

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  • $\begingroup$ Are you implicitly asking "How can humanity harden out current electrical grid against Carrington Events?" or just assuming that those kind of events make impossible the use of electromagnetism? $\endgroup$ 2 days ago
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On a world that is ravaged by monthly Carrington Events, it seems that while a civilization can become adept in mechanical technology and simple batteries, they would not be able to develop technology based off of electricity that we have on earth.

They absolutely will. They may even come to using electricity early - because they'll have more observations flowing from the nature and feeding their intellect than just the magnetite and static electricity caused by rubbing sulfur spheres.

They'll discover shielding (the Faraday cage) earlier. While they may produce their electricity as AC, but they will use DC instead for their grid - DC can be shielded without losses produced by the parasitic capacitance (between the cable and its shielding). Note: the use of rectification predates the availability of electronic diodes. The discover of vacuum tubes is not impeded by Carrington events.

Because such events will trigger massive auroras, they may even discover the laser based on gaseous medium laser earlier than 1960

BTW, I hope everyone realized that Carrington events produce EM waves with the peak spectrum in long and very long wavelengths - the telegraph lines would not have been able to generate sparks and fires otherwise; a Carrington event is definitely not a nuke EMP.
As such, solid state electronics will function quite well under such circumstances if the power supply is stable (and the use of shielded DC line makes it a certitude).

There will be some notable impacts on the way they use electricity and radiowaves:

  • the grid will be more expensive than our current one (because of the need of shielding)
  • they won't be able to reliable use the entire radio spectrum for long distance (WiFi distances is absolutely fine) - their telecommunications will evolve to different means as a substitute (light probably).
  • exploration (sea fairing and space exploration) may be hampered, but not totally denied for them
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    $\begingroup$ There's a reason we use AC for our grids - DC has insane losses over even moderate wire lengths. So I'd rather say they'd simply develop shielded AC-DC converters. And the physics of Aurorae is far-off from stimulated, coherent emission by photons, so I'd contest that. $\endgroup$ 2 days ago
  • $\begingroup$ Also, one more quibble about this answer: most sea faring exploration occurred before radio. Also, radio would work but not during events. People would likely get use to not having constant contact. Space missions would still work. The astronauts would just be more on their own. $\endgroup$
    – ShadoCat
    2 days ago
  • $\begingroup$ @AtmosphericPrisonEscape it's low voltage transmission that has high losses (due to power dissipation scaling as I^2*R), and AC allows shifting the voltage/current relationship with a simple transformer. Modern switching converter technology has allowed for HVDC transmission to get the advantages of high voltages while avoiding the transmission line effects and synchronization complications of AC distribution. $\endgroup$ 2 days ago
  • $\begingroup$ @AtmosphericPrisonEscape DC doesn't have any more loses than AC - it's just that's easier to raise the voltage (and drop the current for the same power transmitted) for AC - just use a transformer (for DC one needs switching electronics to do the same). On the other side, shielding AC will introduce a parasitic capacitance between the wire and the shielding, capacitance which will eat your power fast, even more so at high voltage (C*U^2/2 is the energy in a capacitor - when U goes into 10^5-10^6 V, even small capacitors will suck non-trivial amount of energy ). $\endgroup$ 2 days ago
  • $\begingroup$ @AtmosphericPrisonEscape "And the physics of Aurorae is far-off from stimulated, coherent emission by photons, so I'd contest that." True, but the physics of glow discharges (as a prerequisite for gas medium lasers) would have been sorted out earlier. $\endgroup$ 2 days ago
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Power Generation

That civilization would rely more on local power generation.

As Adrian Colomitchi mentioned, shielded DC current would work but DC has higher losses over distance. This can be mitigated by thicker copper wires and increasing the voltage.

As a result, each town would likely have its own generator(s) and long distance transmission of power would be very expensive. Remember that there were community steam plants that would pipe steam to neighboring buildings. DC electricity through decently sized wiring would have less of a power drop over distance than steam and would be seen as a good replacement.

Bonus Energy

They may even develop the battery technology to store the power generated in long wires. Eventually the storms may be seen as bonus energy.

Communication

The telegraph which wouldn't happen for obvious reasons. Though it might be used when secure communication is absolutely needed and the cost of shielding a cable that long is seen as worth the cost.

Radio would still work, it would just have interruptions and people would not rely on it for continuous communication. Morse code or something similar would likely develop. Messages would likely be queued up to be sent when the "weather" was clear. You could have relay stations that would be manned by people who would receive messages on one frequency and then pick the frequency of the next stop for that message and send it to the tapper (the one who sends the messages) for that delivery location. That would involve a lot of people at each station to receive, deliver and sort messages. That sort of thing happened on a smaller scale with the telegraph.

Computers

The first computers would likely be electro-mechanical linkages to receive messages on punch tape and those tapes be queued up for the mechanical tappers. The receiver would punch on the tape for the next hop in the delivery and that tape would spool until it was able to be delivered. The receiver would probably use some kind of parity code to make sure it got a whole transmission. The sender would then re-transmit until it got a good parity code back. This would eliminate the need to know when the storms would be over and would allow some messages to go through during lulls in the storm.

This bit of mechanical computing would cut a room full of 10 to 30 people to 1 to 3 people as you would just need to make sure that everything is oiled and to fix tape breaks.

Space Flight

The only real difference would be the general slow down in tech development. Communication may be voice or handled as above. The astronauts would be much more on their own and rely on more simple signals rather than voice transmission.

The need for shielding may be seen as obvious from the start, though the first fried astronaut would tell them that. Manned missions would be much more expensive and not likely to happen without very good "weather" prediction. Unmanned missions would still be very possible.

There will actually be a big push for the space industry: communication satellites. It is much faster to bounce a signal off of a satellite once during clear "weather" to go from coast to coast than to bounce it dozens of times looking for clear "weather".

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Acceleration of knowledge of electrical phenomenon with monthly recurrences is almost certain. Vacuum tube tech would hold on longer since the are intrinsically more resistant to EMP. (The Voyager probes use them and are still functioning)
Imagining a parallel universe vac tubes would likely still be in use. It would be interesting to see what the tech would look like with the force of time, necessity and profit behind it.
Fiber optics would get a boost as necessity would demand. I'm uncertain how long mechanical computing would hold out, doubtful it would be any longer than it has in our world. Discarding politics nuclear energy would be more prevalent. SMRs (Small Modular Reactors) an idea from the atomic age recently being talked about might become a thing after some time. Optical computing again, a thing.
Harvesting power from the monthly events depending on their intensity and reliability. The energy is quite diffuse but still a plausible plot device you could look into further.
Skin cancer might be an issue, from an angry CME spewing Sun...

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