Solar Eclipse Puts US Power Grid Under the Microscope

About 3,400 megawatts of large-scale solar came  off the system during the eclipse.About 3,400 megawatts of large-scale solar came  off the system during the eclipse.

The first total solar eclipse to sweep the US from coast to coast in 99 years plunged broad swaths of the nation into darkness on Monday, putting more than 12,000 megawatts of solar power at risk.

The grid faced its first major test since America started adding large amounts of solar and wind resources and looked to have passed with flying colors, Bloomberg reported.

“It’s been smooth sailing,” said David Shepheard, managing director at consultant Accenture Plc. “Everyone I talked to so far said there were no unexpected impacts.”

“It was similar to the fog coming into San Francisco,” said Audrey Lee, vice president of grid services at Sunrun Inc., the largest independent US residential solar company.

Regional grid operators from California to Pennsylvania provided real-time updates on how their networks handled fluctuating power flows, as millions of Americans headed outside to gaze at the sky.

The celestial event, which lasted about seven minutes, provided an opportunity to test plants, software and markets refined in recent years in anticipation of the day when renewable energy becomes the dominant source of power. Bloomberg New Energy Finance has projected that renewables will supply more than half of the world’s electricity in 2040.

California tapped into its network of hydropower generators and gas plants that can ramp up quickly. The state also embarked upon a public relations campaign to convince residents to conserve energy to minimize greenhouse gas emissions while solar plants are down.

About 3,400 megawatts of large-scale solar came off the system during the eclipse, according to Nancy Traweek, executive director of system operations for the California grid operator.

That was less than the forecast of 4,600 MW.

“Things went really, really well,” Eric Schmitt, vice president of operations, told a press briefing post-eclipse. “We’re very pleased with the outcome.”

Spot wholesale prices at Northern California’s NP15 hub fell, as the eclipse started and passed, touching a low of minus $15.84 a megawatt-hour at one point.

“They have too much generation in the marketplace and they are paying people to take electricity off of the wholesale market,” Shepheard said.

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