California's solar energy grid survived the eclipse without incident


Colas Wattway road-mounted solar panels

Colas Wattway road-mounted solar panels

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Solar power provides 10 percent of California's energy supply, which meant electric-grid operators had to be prepared for potentially disastrous effects during Monday's solar eclipse.

To the surprise of many, there were no serious repercussions as the moon blocked a significant source of energy for many California utility companies.

The solar eclipse was a rare chance for solar energy to prove its resilience when blended with more traditional energy sources—and many experts suggest it passed the test with flying colors.

DON'T MISS: More solar energy was added in 2016 than natural gas or wind

Combined with natural-gas power and existing supply agreements, the alternative fuel and several other western states seamlessly stepped in to fill California's temporary solar-energy void, according to The Washington Post.

Some caveats should be noted on solar's resilience after the smooth transition executed during the eclipse.

Analysts argue utility companies had the benefit of knowing far in advance when the eclipse would come and go.

 

Photovoltaic solar power field at Volkswagen plant in Chattanooga, Tennessee

Photovoltaic solar power field at Volkswagen plant in Chattanooga, Tennessee

Enlarge Photo

That advance notice offered ample time to prepare systems for the loss of renewable energy.

If a natural disaster or other unforeseen event took place, it remains to be seen how quickly solar energy would recover or how it might integrate with other sources of energy on an emergency basis.

Estimates from California showed a loss of 3,000 to 3,500 megawatts of solar power during the eclipse.

READ THIS: Soaring growth of solar power demonstrated in one chart

Across the United States, North Carolina prepared similarly.

The state fired up natural-gas powered generators to fill the loss of solar energy created during the solar eclipse, and utility companies said everything operated as it should.

Natural-gas powered generators can be turned on relatively quickly, compared to other fuel sources, and can provide the extra energy needed on cloudy days or during events like the solar eclipse.

 

Photovoltaic solar power field at Volkswagen plant in Chattanooga, Tennessee

Photovoltaic solar power field at Volkswagen plant in Chattanooga, Tennessee

Enlarge Photo

“In a way, [solar and natural gas are] strange bedfellows,” said Randy Wheeless, a North Carolina Duke Energy spokesman.

The rare solar eclipse may increase the focus on natural gas, which continues to displace coal in the U.S. grid mix.

CHECK OUT: RIP natural-gas cars, doomed by cheap gas and electric cars

Natural gas produces far less carbon dioxide per megawatt-hour of electricity generated by burning it advanced combined-cycle powerplants, and its share is likely to increase along with that of renewables.

In the coming weeks, meanwhile, thousands of utility grid operators will pore over the data collected during the solar eclipse to understand how renewables are affected by more common events such as thunderstorms.

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