Nothing to see here, folks. That about summed up the reaction among U.S. utilities after Monday’s total solar eclipse briefly took more than 12,000 megawatts of solar photovoltaic power offline. The non-news followed days of somewhat hysterical alarm from some U.S. media about the potential effects of the solar power dropout on grid supplies.
Utility operators had spent months or years planning for the outage and viewed it as a “forecastable dress rehearsal” for less easily predicted disruptions to a power grid that is increasingly reliant on variable renewable energy sources.
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Nonetheless, numerous U.S. media outlets predicted chaos when the sun was obscured for about an hour by the moon’s passing between it and the earth. The eclipse would have a “serious impact” on the grid, AOL warned. The right-wing Daily Caller shrieked that it would “wreak havoc” on the stability of power supplies.
In the event, however, the hullabaloo was overblown. America’s power grid across the 14 states in the eclipse’s path “passed with flying colors,” Politico Morning Energy reported. “Solar panels across a swath of the U.S. went dark Monday as the first domestic total solar eclipse since 1979 transfixed the country, but the electric grid appeared to weather the disruption easily.”
In California, the state with the deepest reliance on solar power, Eric Schmitt, vice-president of operations for grid operator ISO, said the state lost as much as 3,500 megawatts of power over a roughly three-hour period. Hydro and natural gas generation easily filled in.
“We didn’t have any major challenges on the system, even minor challenges,” Schmitt reported. “We’re very pleased with how smoothly it went. All the resources performed the way they were supposed to perform.”
The experience may also deliver some real-world pushback against concerns, promoted by fossil interests and taken up by U.S. Energy Secretary Rick Perry, that a greater share of renewable generation could undercut the reliability of America’s grid. Perry is currently reviewing a report on the subject which he requested this spring, but which is not believed to support his view.