Solar grid operators in California are preparing for August’s solar eclipse and for a major drop in energy production. Green Tech Media reports that several hours of darkness will cause a shortfall equal to the energy demand of Los Angeles. This rare celestial sight is the first to cross the United States since 1979, allowing many viewers to observe over two minutes of total obstruction.
While astrological enthusiasts marvel at this event, solar providers may be scrambling to keep up. Green Tech News reports that the eclipse will cause a 6,000-megawatt shortage, according to the California Independent System Operator. This blow will especially be felt by the Golden State, as 10% of electricity is generated by solar. California also provides half of total solar power in the United States.
Green Tech Media reports that California Public Utilities Commission President Michael Picker said at two recent public events that energy sector leaders should encourage residents to use less electricity for the duration of the eclipse.
“We can do our California thing,” he said at one of the events. “We can mobilize and respond without powering up our peakers, without dragging baseload power plants out of retirement to supplement the grid. We can ask people not to charge their phones, not to turn on their washing machines. We can ask them not to charge their EVs. There are simple things we can do to power that hour and a half.”
Rather than leaving all of the responsibility on state residents, CAISO will be supplementing solar energy with other types of power, Green Tech Media reports. The organization will be using hydropower and natural gas to keep energy levels up.
“We’ll be needing to bring on some natural-gas plants to help us with our flexible ramping product to make up for lost solar,” Stephen Greenlee, senior public information officer at CAISO, said in a statement to Green Tech Media. “So we need to make sure the gas supply is going to be in place and generators have it procured and are ready to generate during that time. Then we also have … plenty of hydro generation this year, so we’re going to be using that as well.”
As solar energy equipment becomes more widely used for energy production, operators will have to develop methods to cope with unforeseen drops in energy like this. The industry for solar energy is expected to reach $140 billion by 2023. This makes it a relevant player in the industrial sector. Compare this to other successful markets like the construction, farm machinery, and oil and gas field machinery industries, which bring in $43.9 billion, $38.3 billion, and $32.7 billion in shipments respectively.
Outside of major corporate solar grids, solar is also on the rise for residential consumers. As of 2016, one million households were using solar energy. This sector of the market requires 600 square foot panels to power their homes. Knowing the increasing demand for both commercial and residential solar energy, Greenlee said in a statement to Green Tech Media that this eclipse is testing CAISO’s ability to handle the unpredictable nature of wind and solar energy sources.
“The old grid was based on baseload power, and most of the baseload was close to the urban centers that were using it,” he said. “Now we have resources that are more remote, farther way and more variable. So it’s a new paradigm, and one we think is very exciting. We’re helping to create the grid of the future.”