The eclipse will affect solar power in states like California that are far outside the path of totality

The eclipse will affect solar power in states like California that are far outside the path of totality
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usa map with band showing path of total solar eclipse from Texas to Maine
A map showing where the moon’s shadow will cross the US during the 2024 total solar eclipse.

  • The solar eclipse on April 8 will affect solar power generation.
  • In the US, the path of totality will span from Texas to Maine but other states will be affected.
  • The growth in solar power means the impact will be about three times higher than the 2017 eclipse.

On April 8, millions of people plan to put on a pair of eclipse glasses and watch as the moon crosses in front of the sun. While the event will affect solar power generation, everyone’s lights should still be on when they go back inside.

In the US, the path of totality — where the moon will appear to fully block the sun — will stretch from Texas to Maine. However, electricity providers in other states with lots of solar energy also need to have power reserves ready, Barry Mather, an engineer with the National Renewable Energy Laboratory, told Business Insider.

“This eclipse actually is going to impact solar generation across the entire North American continent, practically,” he said. As the moon shades the sun, it will diminish the amount of sunlight that solar panels receive.

However, because we can precisely predict where and when the eclipse will be, that means utilities can plan around them to avoid blackouts.

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“I fully expect that we’re all prepared for this,” Mather said.

There’s more solar power in the US than in 2017

There are quite a few reasons this year’s eclipse will be different from others in the past.

The 2017 total solar eclipse in the US had a completely different path of totality than this year’s, moving from Oregon to South Carolina in the US. The country also started generating about three times as much solar power in the past seven years, Mather said.

“The market is just growing very quickly,” he said, “so the impact’s going to be about three times as high as it was in 2017.”

Two engineers bring the solar panel for installation at the solar farm.
Solar power has grown significantly since the 2017 eclipse.

However, Mather said there was very little battery energy storage during the last eclipse. “We still don’t have a ton, but we do have some,” he said.

To make up for the decrease in solar power, utilities will have to turn to other sources.

There shouldn’t be blackouts

On any given day, utilities have already planned the amount of power they’ll generate and where it will come from 10 days in advance, Mather said. Eclipse days are no different.

“One thing that we’re doing here at NREL is actually working with a number of the entities that are most impacted by the eclipse,” Mather said.

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As the day draws closer, changing weather forecasts may alter the plans a bit. If it will be cloudy, the solar generation won’t be as affected, for example.

One way utilities are preparing is by planning to carry more reserves, or extra generation that’s online and ready to provide extra power when necessary, Mather said.

A person looks at a total eclipse through a telescope with sunset colors in the horizon behind her.
About 30 million people live in the path of totality for this year’s solar eclipse.

“We actually saw this in the 2017 eclipse, specifically in California,” he said. The state has a lot of solar power.

“So when the power does start to fall off because the solar starts to decrease, there’s very little disturbance to the grid in terms of frequency, voltage, all those sorts of metrics that we track as power system engineers,” he said.

The reserves typically use less-green energy sources, like coal or natural gas.

The eclipse will impact California, Alaska, and other places outside the path of totality

Many eyes will be on the skies in Texas, where populated cities like San Antonio, Austin, and Dallas are in the path of totality. It’s also a state with a lot of solar power and its own grid.

“In Texas, our estimations are that we will drop something like 14 gigawatts,” Mather said. Just 1 gigawatt is enough to power 100 million LED bulbs, according to the Office of Energy Efficiency & Renewable Energy.

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The eclipse looks fairly quick to humans, only taking a few minutes for the moon to pass by the sun. For solar panels, it’s different, Mather said. Less intense sunlight will shine on the panels for longer than three to five minutes.

“The sun starts being occluded an hour or even more before the total eclipse happens,” he said.

A cheerleader smiles as she looks up at the sky holding eclipse glasses.
A young woman looks through special eyewear to a solar eclipse a few years ago.

And the weaker sunlight will affect California and other states with solar panels.

Though it’s far from the path of totality, Mather said, “the generation in San Diego, for instance, will still drop off by 50% or somewhere around there.”

“There’s so much focus on that path of totality, which I have no doubt is a very cool thing to experience as a human,” he said. “But from a power system standpoint, it really is a nationwide impact that we will see.”

Read the original article on Business Insider


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