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article imageSolar eclipse to be a 'test case' for renewable energy in U.S.

By Karen Graham     Aug 19, 2017 in Business
Renewable energy companies and power grid managers across the United States will have their eyes glued to monitoring systems during Monday's total solar eclipse. Not only is the eclipse an historic event, it will also test the renewable energy sector.
I suppose we can be thankful that total solar eclipses are not a monthly or annual event, now that solar photovoltaic power plants are part of our energy mix, but utilities and grid operators have been planning for this solar event for a number of years.
Phil Mihlmester, the executive vice president for global energy at ICF, an international energy industry consulting firm in Maryland, spoke with Quartz the other day about some of the concerns grid operators have. “The total solar eclipse is a test case for renewable energy generally and weather events," Mihlmester said.
The electrical grid brings electricity from the power source into our homes and businesses.
The electrical grid brings electricity from the power source into our homes and businesses.
Fitrah Hamid, Georgia Tech
“As solar energy reliance becomes increasingly common, we’ll want to know how to ramp up fast and switch to an alternative power supply from solar quickly during an event.” So yes, the eclipse will be a "planned emergency," so to speak, where grid operators can learn what to anticipate during a real emergency.
Preparations for managing the grid
So, what have managers and grid operators been doing to prepare for the eclipse? Well, according to the Energy Industries Association (EIA), about 1,900 utility-scale solar photovoltaic power plants in all will be affected, says Vox.
During the eclipse, the Moon will completely block the Sun's rays in the path of the eclipse's totality. And unlike on a cloudy day, the loss of the sun will cause a rapid decline and rapid rebound of solar power. You can imagine how this will affect the electrical grid.
Enel Green Energy s  Stillwater  solar power plant in the United States.
Enel Green Energy's "Stillwater" solar power plant in the United States.
Enel Green Energy
And it is this very issue that will test the management skills of grid operators. “Our solar plants are going to lose over half of their ability to generate electricity during the two to two and a half hours that the eclipse will be impacting our area,” says Steven Greenlee, spokesperson for the California Independent System Operator, or CAISO, one of the largest independent grid operators in the world.
Solar energy now accounts for 42,600 megawatts (MW), or about 5 percent of the U.S.'s peak demand. This is an increase from the 5 MW of solar capacity recorded in 2000, according to the North American Electric Reliability Council (NERC). NERC adds that when we see the next solar eclipse in 2024, solar energy capacity will account for 14 percent of our energy portfolio.
More about Solar eclipse, Renewable energy, Preparedness, Power grid, solar surge
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