A Solar Flare vs. All the Holiday lights on Earth: Which has more energy?

I’ve talked at length about Solar Flares.  They are massively energetic, and due to the Sun’s 11 year maximum period of activity, we have seen a lot of powerful ones this year.  With the holidays in full swing, sometimes the Universe can put up its own lights.


Which is More Powerful? A Solar Flare or all the Lights on Earth during the season?

First of all, we need to figure out how much energy lights produce, and roughly how many homes put them up, and for how long.  We will have to make some assumptions, but we will start with the average energy use.

Incandescent light bulbs have been put up for decades.  They heat up, suck power, and make your energy bill skyrocket.  According to Christmas Lights Etc., the typical home lighting display maxes out at 7,000 Watts (Joules per Second).  Although, if you’re a Griswold type, you can speed up climate change with a display that runs at nearly 20,000 Watts.

In the past few years, Light-emitting Diode (LED) lighting has broken into the market.  LED’s are brighter, last longer, and use far less energy.  The average LED display costs only 1,000 Watts, and if Clark Griswold used LED’s to power his display, he would use 2,500 Watts instead of 20,000.

So let’s say that about half of all homes use LED lighting, and most don’t max it out.  This would put the average Home display at about 2,000 Watts.

But how long do we leave the lights on for? The enthusiast will start kicking up the hydro bill in November, but most people will start the first week of December and carry it along until January, or about 30 days.  But we don’t keep them on constantly, so let’s say 4 hours per day.

So 30 days x 4 hours x 60 Minutes x 60 Seconds = 432,000 seconds of use

Multiply that by our average user at 2,000 Watts, or Joules per Second, and we get about 864 Million Joules over the season.

Finally, we need to know how many homes actually put up lights.  It is estimated that there are 2.1 Billion Christians on Earth, but not all of them live in the excess of the first world and can afford Christmas lights, or food for that matter.  Also, some larger nations don’t celebrate Christmas en masse (1% of Chinese people celebrate). In North America, Europe, and Other developed areas of the world, there are around 2 Billion people, and if 1 in 3 of them celebrate Christmas, then we have around 700 Million people who celebrate the holiday.

Not all of them own houses, but let’s cut that number in half to estimate the households that have lights.  It would be less than half but I’m going to cover large public displays and average it out.  This puts our number at 350 Million light displays.

The total energy of the world produced over the holidays?

350 Million homes x 864 Million Joules per home = 3.02 x 1017 Joules!

How about a Solar Flare?

The average energy in the most powerful solar flares is around 1025 Joules.  We will be a little bit conservative and use a tenth of that energy for a more common flare, so 1024 Joules = 1,000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000 J.

This is still over 3.3 Million times as energetic as all the Christmas lights in the world over the month of holidays!

Let’s Kick it up a Notch!

That was our average estimate. Now let’s say that every home uses Incandescent bulbs and Griswolds the hell out of their home by using 20,000 Watts.  This runs them up to ten times the total use of the average, or 8.6 Billion Joules!

At this energy, the total output of the 350 Million homes gives us 3.20 x 1018 Joules! A solar flare still outputs 330,000 times that amount of energy.

Going Overboard!

Go big! Now let’s say everyone on Earth celebrates their holiday with lights, all 6.1 Billion people.  The 6.1 Billion people all live in houses too! With 4 people per house, this gives us about 1.5 Billion homes to light up.  And not only to they put up lights, they Griswold the heck out of their homes at 20,000 Watts!  They also leave them on for 24 hours a day, for 30 days.

This situation gives each home an energy drain of 51.8 Billion Joules.  If we multiply that by our alter-Earth’s 1.5 Billion homes, we get an energy expenditure of 7.78 x 1019 Joules!

Sadly, a Solar Flare is still 13,000 times more energetic.  Solar Flares are pretty damn powerful.

Of course, this all assumes we have the infrastructure to give that much power to the world, which we don’t.  A situation like this would cause indefinite rolling blackouts and plunge the world into chaos.  Though with the intermittent power, an ISS Astronaut would see parts of the Earth lighting up in a pattern!

Merry Christmas!

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