HOUSTON (Reuters) - As Monday's total solar eclipse sweeps from Oregon to South Carolina, U.S. electric power and grid operators will be glued to their monitoring systems in what for them represents the biggest test of the renewable energy era.
Utilities and grid operators have been planning for the event for years, calculating the timing and drop in output from solar, running simulations of the potential impact on demand, and lining up standby power sources. It promises a critical test of their ability to manage a sizeable swing in renewable power.
Solar energy now accounts for more than 42,600 megawatts (MW), about 5 percent of the U.S.'s peak demand, up from 5 MW in 2000, according to the North American Electric Reliability Council (NERC), a group formed to improve the nation's power system in the wake of a 1964 blackout. When the next eclipse comes to the United States in 2024, solar will account for 14 percent of the nation's power, estimates NERC.
For utilities and solar farms, the eclipse represents an opportunity to see how well prepared their systems are to respond to rapid swings in an era where variable energy sources such as solar and wind are climbing in scale and importance.
Power companies view Monday's event as a "test bed" on how power systems can manage a major change in supply, said John Moura, director of reliability assessment and system analysis at the North American Electric Reliability Corp.
"It has been tested before, just not at this magnitude," adds Steven Greenlee, a spokesman for the California Independent System Operator (CISO), which controls routing power in the nation's most populous state.
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