Back in 2011, the sun was so quiet that researchers were speculating that it might be entering a long term period of lowered output. Now that the current solar max has reached its climactic months and is proving to be the quietest in a century, that speculation is being renewed. If this is happening, global warming models could be derailed as Earth ends up facing another mini ice age similar to the one that began in the 1350s and did not end until the 1890s. This would have a profound effect on Earth’s weather and could indeed save us from runaway global warming.
Over the past 48 hours, the sun has exploded with no fewer than four x-class flares. X flares are the most powerful type of flare. Sunspot AR1748 has produced the flares. The latest X-flare from the sunspot occured on May 15th at 0152 UT. For four x-flares to take place over such a short period of time is highly unusual, and NASA is estimating that the sunspot has a 50% chance of generating more x-flares, and an 80% chance of generating smaller m-class flares. These flares are generating high levels of solar radiation, but so far, purely by chance, have not been directed at Earth.
It’s happened before: In 1859, sunspots erupted, causing sparks in telegraph offices that set paper on fire. Today, 150 years later, we are much MORE "wired," and sun flares are much more dangerous.
Satellites would be disabled. GPS and radio signals would be scrambled. Electricity grids could burn out, plunging the areas where the flares hit into darkness. Depending on the amount of damage, these outages could last intermittently for years.
The British Royal Academy of Engineering has completed a study of the UK power grid showing that it is relatively well prepared to weather a solar superstorm–but the opposite is true in the United States.
It turns out that explosive eruptions of energy from the sun are fairly common. In BBC News, Jonathan Amos quotes the UK study as saying that If a solar superstorm struck the Earth, the effects on the UK would be "challenging but not cataclysmic."
He quotes space engineer Keith Ryden as saying, "Fortunately, satellites are already designed to deal with a lot of this space weather."