Why the Solar Eclipse Could Be Trouble for European Power Grids
European scientists and power plant operators are worried about the impact of today’s solar eclipse on the continent’s power grid.
Their worry stems from the fact that a significant portion of the power grid in countries such as Germany (11%) is now powered by solar PV systems. However, since power grids around the world are still largely traditional, they operate best under continuous power input from centralized sources such as thermal power plants.
Therefore the solar eclipse – that was predicted to cover as much as 85% of the sun as the moon passes between the sun and the earth – will notably reduce power production for the duration of the event (9:30 am to 12 pm, Germany).
This has industry watchers worried about the ability of the grids to withstand this temporary but sizeable fluctuation. Several countermeasures have been floated – including solar PV plant shutdowns. However, the high cost of such a step, at least in Germany, does not make it a viable option.
This is because, if weather conditions are clear and sunny leading up to the eclipse, the event alone would cost the market nearly €3.39 million in lost power generation (for overcast conditions, the impact would be lower). That cost would triple to nearly €10 million if PV power plants were shut down to “protect” the central grid, in part because of the payments to be reimbursed to plant operators for lost revenue.
Why European Power Grids lessons are important to India
However, countries such as the UK are not as concerned about the event, as their share of solar energy in the grid is much smaller. In the UK, the eclipse is more of an opportunity to study how a dip in power production – and the oscillations it introduces – affects the national grid.
These lessons are also highly relevant in the Indian context, as investing in grid-tied utility scale solar systems have also left the Indian power grid vulnerable to outages or sudden drops in energy input.
Therefore, as India powers its way to a solar (and wind) driven energy economy, understanding the implications of poor weather, occasional events such as solar eclipses and the overall impact of inherently fluctuating power from renewable will be key to designing a smart, resilient grid for the future.