Solar eclipses have historically been exciting and mysterious events; the proliferation of solar energy production adds a new twist.
On Friday, March 20, a total solar eclipse will pass over Atlantic, cast a huge shadow over Europe, and shut down as much as 34 gigawatts (GW) of solar electricity production. This should create some excitement for power system operators. According to ENTSO-E (the European transmission operators association), this eclipse "will pose a serious challenge to the regulating capability of the interconnected power system in terms of available regulation capacity, regulation speed and geographical location of reserves."
Between 07:40 and 11:50 UTC (08:40 - 12:50 CET), Friday's eclipse will be visible across Europe. The reduction in solar radiation will immediately translate into a wave of decreased output from photovoltaic systems -- followed by a surge of increased PV output. This will be like taking a major power plant offline every 150 seconds -- then, after the shadow passes, turning one on every 80 seconds.
PV now accounts for almost 90 GW of electric capacity in Europe. This is more than enough to supply all of Europe's biggest economy, Germany -- and twice as much as what California needs. It's the equivalent of about 90 nuclear or large coal power plants.
A solar eclipse is perfectly predictable, but with the recent strong growth in PV proliferation, the way an eclipse affects power systems is something new. Fortunately, Europe's power engineers are carefully planning for this event, working both within and across borders to manage the situation. If all goes well, electricity users will be aware of nothing more than the magic of a rare and exciting solar eclipse.
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