The first total solar eclipse in 99 years will be an unprecedented test of an American power grid that has become rapidly reliant on solar energy, according to Bloomberg. Power grids, utilities and generators are bracing for more than 12,000 megawatts of solar power to go offline starting around 9 a.m. in Oregon as the moon blocks out the sun across a 70-mile-wide (113-kilometer) corridor.
The eclipse has arrived at a time when the American power grid is becoming increasingly reliant on solar, wind and hydroelectric power.
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“This is the first major test of the power grid since America started bringing large amounts of intermittent solar and wind resources onto the system. It comes just as the grid is undergoing an unprecedented transformation whereby flexible resources such as battery storage will complement growing supplies of solar and wind. Solar installations have grown ninefold since 2012 and renewable sources are forecast to supply just as much of America’s electricity demand as natural gas by 2040.”
Renewable energy sources have increased dramatically, especially over the past five to ten years, said Nicholas Steckler, an analyst at Bloomberg.
“’The U.S. power grid “hasn’t seen this sort of natural phenomenon since solar became a thing,’ Nicholas Steckler, an analyst at Bloomberg New Energy Finance, said. ‘With so many renewables coming online, especially in the last five to ten years, there is more impact from an eclipse.’”
In most cases, regional power authorities already have back-up natural gas plants and hydroelectric power lined up to help compensate for the sudden loss of solar power. They've also promised to keep locals apprised of the situation.
“The eclipse is expected to reach the U.S. at 9:05 a.m. local time at Lincoln Beach, Oregon, and last for about four hours. Back-up, natural-gas plants and hydroelectric dams are at the ready to fill solar’s void along with new technologies to control demand.
Regional grid operators from California to Pennsylvania plan to provide real-time updates on how their networks are handling fluctuating power flows as millions of Americans head outside to gaze at the sky.” Related: Forget Oil Prices, Oil Majors Are A Buy
Because it’s home to more solar power than any other state, experts will be closely watching California's response to the eclipse. According to Bloomberg, the state plans to briefly transitions to a backup network of hydropower generators and gas plants to help fill an expected 6,000-megawatt gap from the loss of solar power.
“California, home to more solar power than any other state, will tap into its network of hydropower generators and gas plants that can ramp up quickly to fill a 6,000-megawatt gap in solar energy. The state also embarked upon a public relations campaign to convince residents to conserve energy to minimize greenhouse-gas emissions while solar plants are down.”
North Carolina is expected to see the largest reduction in solar power on a percentage basis as part of the state, which lies in the eclipse’s “zone of totality” will be plunged into complete darkness. The state’s power grid is expected to lose about 2,000 megawatts, or 80 percent, of utility-scale solar farms. To prepare for this, the state is treating the eclipse like an early sunset.
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“The utility will treat it like a “gradual sunset,” said Tammie McGee, a company spokeswoman, estimating that as many as 1,200 megawatts of gas generation will be called upon to pick up the slack.” Related: Are Investors Bailing On U.S. Shale?
Wholesale energy prices could see a brief spike, particularly in California, where the typical midday jump in electricity costs might be longer and steeper than on a normal day.
“Wholesale electricity prices may rally on solar’s sudden slide. The eclipse will start curbing power supplies a little after 9 a.m. on the West Coast, just when the work week is starting and demand is taking off. According to energy data provider Genscape Inc., the event may extend the typical period of high power prices in California by about two hours.”
Anyone interested in watching the eclipse should use the proper precautions. Experts have warned that looking directly at the sun during the eclipse, while wearing sunglasses. Observers could suffer temporary or permanent loss of eyesight unless they use special eyeglasses designed to withstand the sun’s rays.
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