Solar eclipse to test European grid

Image credit: Luc Viatour / via CC / cropped from original

Tomorrow the moon will cross into the line of sight between Europe and the sun. While people from Oslo to Istanbul make their way to work by car, bus or bicycle, a total solar eclipse will darken their skies for one hour.

Total solar eclipses are rare: One hasn’t passed over Europe since 1999. Once considered bad omens, eclipses have since come to be considered curiosities as we’ve begun to understand the mechanics of planetary and lunar orbits Thank you, Johannes Kepler.

A test for the European grid

For the first time, a total eclipse will pass over an area that harnesses the sun for a significant amount of its electricity supply. Solar accounts for about 3 percent of all electricity generation in continental Europe.

The European Network of Transmission System Operators for Electricity (ENTSO-E) calls the eclipse “an unprecedented test for Europe’s electricity system.” It will cause a sudden, mid-morning drop—and just as sudden of a rise—of 35,000 megawatts of solar power from the grid.

In a recent release, ENTSO-E assures Europeans that control rooms will be in close contact with one another throughout the morning and will be ready to respond quickly if needed.

A combination of response tactics

Barry Fischer and Ben Harack provide a deeper analysis of Transmission Systems Operators’ (TSOs) likely response on Opower’s “Outlier” blog – focusing on Germany, where solar accounts for approximately 6.9 percent of that country’s net electricity consumption.

What’s likely? Fischer and Harack expect a combination of tactics. They include releasing energy stored in hydroelectric dams, turning on quick-start natural gas plants and importing electricity from other countries. All of this should help balance out the dip in solar power—and help ensure the likelihood of continuous service.

Will consumers even notice?

So, just what will happen on Friday morning when your average European turns on a light or powers up a factory?

Fischer and Harack think TSOs may ask consumers to minimize electrical use during the eclipse as a precaution. Opower, coincidentally, provides utilities and their customers with systems that help lower demand during peak times.

According to a recent piece in Mother Jones, however, most experts predict European consumers will experience no noticeable effect. This is thanks, largely, to the very foresight and months of planning by the utility companies. And that seems to bode well for consumers served by the growing solar power industry in the U.S., where utilities are likely paying attention to the European approach.

In case you’re wondering, the next total solar eclipse in the U.S. will be on the afternoon of August 21, 2017. It’ll cut a diagonal path across the lower 48 states, starting in Oregon and heading southeast toward the Carolinas and Georgia. Depending on your location, anywhere from 40 to 100 percent of the sun will be covered. It’ll be the first total solar eclipse to cross the continental U.S. since 1979.

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