On August 21, 2017, much of the U.S. will be able to see a total or near-total solar eclipse. While the phenomenon has been met with excitement by many, it also raises the question of how solar eclipses impact solar power generation. This is a situation we haven’t really faced before, since the widespread use of solar power and total eclipses have rarely overlapped.
Hitting right in the middle of the day, when the sun is at its highest and strongest point in the sky, covering much of the continental U.S., and expected to last over two hours in some locations, the eclipse will definitely have an impact on solar farms. Fortunately, we knew this day was coming and grid operators seem to be prepared.
Planning And Preparation Is Key To Dependable Solar Power
1,900 utility-scale solar photovoltaic (PV) power plants are in the path of the eclipse. California alone is expecting a 6,000 megawatt power shortage due to the eclipse – the equivalent to losing the power demand of Los Angeles from 9 a.m. until noon. North Carolina is also expected to see a big dip in power since the state will experience a near 90% sun obscurity.
U.S. power companies watched the 2015 European eclipse carefully to see what impact, if any, the eclipse had on the much-more heavily solar dependent countries like Germany. In that instance, Germany saw a dip from 21.7 GW to 6.2 GW during the duration of the eclipse but was still able to provide the power needed by the German people. A good reason for that came down to planning and preparation – and that same approach has been adopted in the U.S.
Part of the reason why the eclipse isn’t expected to affect the power grid is because the U.S. grid remains diverse. The solar power that we will miss out on due to the eclipse will be replaced with power from wind turbines, hydropower, and natural gas plants. It’s possible that consumers may still be asked to conserve electricityduring the eclipse, but the hope is that by ramping up power from other sources, the power availability won’t suffer and consumers won’t have to change their daily habits.
It will be interesting to see how the eclipse affect solar power generation across the country and how the power companies respond. If nothing else, it will be a good study on the impact solar power is having on our electrical supply and the backup plans that are in place to preserve continuity of power.
As for August 21, we don’t know about you, but we’ll be too busy watching the eclipse to be worried about power loss.