The solar industry braces for August solar eclipse

The solar industry is bracing for a sharp drop in electricity generated by solar panels during a summer solar eclipse coming August 21.


While North America is eagerly awaiting the solar eclipse, the solar energy industry is very wary about the event. Solar power plant managers and electricity distribution organizations both in the United States and Canada are are preparing for that brief moment when the Moon passes between the Earth and the Sun.

Whats a solar eclipse again?

An eclipse is the serendipitous alignment of the Earth, the Moon, and the Sun. Around every 18 months or so, the Moon passes directly between the Earth and the Sun on its orbit around our planet.

It’s a relatively rare occurrence because the Moon doesn’t orbit in the same plane as the Earth and Sun. But when the three bodies line up just right, the Moon covers up the disc of the Sun, and those in the direct path of the Moon’s shadow — called the path of totality — will see the Sun go dark.

On average, this August 2017 solar eclipse in its totality will last around two minutes and 40 seconds, leaving eclipse-gazers in awe from Oregon to South Carolina, in the United States—and parts of Ontario, Canada—as they witness the Sun’s corona behind the Moon.

The shadow of the moon will race across Ontario at about 3,700 kilometers an hour and the entire event will last about three hours. At its maximum, 75 per cent of the sun will be obscured in Ontario.

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The effect of this total solar eclipse will turn the day into the night which will cause a significant dip in the amount of solar energy being produced and feed into the electric grid. No matter the percent of visibility, the solar grid will be impacted, most heavily in western states, where a vast majority of solar plants operate.

It will cause millions of solar system owners to switch over to the conventional grid. This forthcoming sudden jump in demand for power from the grid, and drop in supply of solar power to the grid is raising worries about overburdening a system that will already be running at a summer peak.

The state of California produces the most solar energy in the United States and will be impacted the most. 4.2 gigawatts of power (1 gigawatt = 1 billion watts) will be in shortfall as the eclipse passes over California, but Michael Picker, president of the California Public Utilities Commission, said “that’s easy to make up.”

In Ontario, the Independent Electricity System Operator (IESO) is preparing to have gas plants and the turbines at Niagara Falls make up the difference on eclipse day.

“From around about 1:30 to 3:30, give or take a bit, there will be an increasing drop in the activity from the sun, that is the solar energy they are collecting,” said Paul Delaney, a York University astronomy professor.

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