Energy

The Eclipse Showed ‘You Can’t Rely On Solar Energy’ Alone, Says Expert

Courtesy Aubrey Gemignani/NASA/Handout via REUTERS

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Michael Bastasch Energy Editor

While solar energy advocates and some in the media touted Monday’s eclipse as a bright spot for solar power, the event really highlighted the lingering troubles of relying too much on the sun for electricity.

But that’s only one take. Solar energy critics said the eclipse showed just how sketchy it could be to rely on too much solar power.

“Solar advocates are touting this as some kind of success story,” Tom Pyle, president of the free market Institute for Energy Research, told The Daily Caller News Foundation.

“What it shows quite clearly is that you can’t rely on solar energy without back up generation,” Pyle said.

The first coast-to-coast solar eclipse in 99 years took about 3,400 megawatts of California’s solar power offline Monday, which was less than the forecast. Grid operators were able to compensate for the lapse in solar by ramping up supplies of hydropower and natural gas.

Overall, California grid operators successfully averted any problems with the grid.

“Things went really, really well,” Eric Schmitt, vice president of California’s grid operator told reporters after the eclipse passed.
“We’re very pleased with the outcome.”

Reporters also made light of the solar eclipse as well. Reporters with The Washington Post and San Francisco Chronicle watched from the California grid operator’s headquarters to see how they handled the predicted drop in solar power.

Likewise, East Coast grid operators temporarily lost thousands of megawatts of solar power as the eclipse passed by. The PJM Interconnection lost ,2,220 megawatts of power and Duke Energy lost 1,700 megawatts over about an hour, according to Bloomberg.

But grid operators had years to plan for the eclipse, which is a completely predictable event. In contrast, grid operators have much less time, maybe days or hours, to prepare for storms, cloud cover and other short-term weather events that can affect solar power.

“Grid operators had the luxury of preparing for a totally predictable event, which is the exception, not the rule,” Pyle said.

Even so, without backup power from hydroelectric dams and natural gas plants, the massive fluctuation in solar panel could have caused blackouts or even done damage to the grid. Pyle said the eclipse episode supports a report IER published Monday.

IER’s report warned against becoming too reliant on solar power without adequate backup energy sources.

Beyond 6 percent penetration, “additional solar above the threshold is actively harmful to the ability of operators to maintain the capacity of the grid because it undermines the economics of those energy sources that must continue to provide the capacity to meet peak demand,” IER found.

California gets 14 percent of its electricity from solar panels, which is already causing some issues. California generates so much power at times, it has to pay other states to take it from them.

“Until the storage problem is solved, solar will remain a headache for utilities and grid operators, even if it is not politically correct to admit,” Pyle said.

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