Europe braces for 'unprecedented' power issues from solar eclipse

March 17, 2015 by Marie Heuclin
If the morning of March 20 turns out to be very sunny—before the eclipse hides the sun—the sudden drop-off in production could reach 34,000 Megawatts, the equivalent of 80 medium-sized conventional power plants

Europe's power operators are bracing for potential disruption from the solar eclipse expected Friday, which will knock out almost all solar-generated electricity in an "unprecedented" test for the network.

"The risk of an incident cannot be completely ruled out," the European Network of Transmission System Operators for Electricity (Entso-e) said recently, as 100 times more is generated from the sun now than during the last in 1999.

"Solar eclipses have happened before but with the increase of installed photovoltaic energy generation, the risk of an incident could be serious without appropriate countermeasures," the group said.

"For the first time this is expected to have a relevant impact on the secure operation of the European power system," warned Entso-e.

If the morning of March 20 turns out to be very sunny—before the eclipse hides the sun—the sudden drop-off in production could reach 34,000 Megawatts, the equivalent of 80 medium-sized conventional power plants.

The drop-off in solar-produced energy could be as much as 75 percent if the sky is cloudless before the eclipse, which will cross Europe, from Portugal to Finland, from 9:00 am to 12:00 pm on Friday.

Network operators have put in place unprecedented contingency plans to compensate for what is expected to be a very sudden loss of power from solar sources.

The various networks have been coordinating their plans "for more than a year, with the creation of a specific task force" to look into the problem, said Konstantin Staschus, secretary general of Entso-e.

Network operators across Europe have put in place unprecedented contingency plans to compensate for what is expected to be a very sudden loss of power from solar sources during the eclipse Friday

'Unprecedented test'

The country hardest hit by the brief plunge into darkness is likely to be Germany, which has a solar power capacity of 40,000 MW and where 18 percent of consumption last year came from solar power.

Aside from Germany, sunny Italy (with a capacity of 20,000 MW) and Spain (6,700 MW) could also be hit hard. France with its 5,700 MW also has a significant industry.

Operators across the continent are bolstering their teams that day and have put in place a special procedure to avoid some households suffering a power cut.

They have bolstered their daily reserves that are used to compensate for normal surges in demand or declines in production. In France for example, the reserve will be boosted to 1,700 MW from the usual 1,000 MW.

Other sources of electricity production are also on stand-by, such as hydraulic dams in France that can be pressed into service rapidly if necessary.

In Germany, gas and coal-fired power stations could be called upon to increase production to compensate for the drop-off of solar's part in the energy mix.

And the countries have vowed to share information when the day comes with inter-connections between nations set to play a key role.

"Control centres in Europe will be in constant communication during the eclipse to ... reduce the reaction time" in the event of a serious power crisis, said Straschus.

One of the key players will be the Brussels-based Coreso, where staff work around the clock to watch over the five interconnected networks in Western Europe which accounts for more than 40 percent of the EU population.

This centre will advise on whether additional capacity will need to be laid on and whether countries will have to need to lend a hand to neighbours with additional supply.

"This will thus be an unprecedented test for Europe's electricity system," concluded Entso-e.

Explore further: Europe's electricity operators prepare for March solar eclipse

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adam_russell_9615
5 / 5 (1) Mar 17, 2015
But is this more power loss than an overcast day? An eclipse is typically 100 miles wide. How much does a cloudy day cover in comparison?
nkalanaga
not rated yet Mar 17, 2015
Possibly more, but the cloudy day comes on gradually, or is cloudy from dawn, and the other power sources are already running by the time the maximum loss is felt. A grid can't accept more power than the customers are using, so any excess capacity has to be idle. In the case of an eclipse, the backup sources have to come online in a matter of minutes, which is hard for thermal plants to do. It isn't so much a matter of the percentage lost, as the time span in which it is lost.
Mike_Syzygy
not rated yet Mar 17, 2015
Don't all solar power grids feed a battery system that then provides power to the electric grid? If the solar goes directly to the electric grid that's a bad design.
SciTechdude
not rated yet Mar 17, 2015
There's actually almost no storage system for solar, that's one of the drawbacks. There's a few small on site batteries, a couple heat storage systems, but the bulk of the power is used as it is generated, and they take the opportunity to turn off other more polluting power sources while it's available. If there's not enough power, they burn the reserves in a few minutes while they bring those secondary sources back online, coal, hydro, diesel, etc.
tadchem
not rated yet Mar 17, 2015
Eclipses have always been considered harbingers of doom. The earth typically experiences solar eclipses twice per year, but the regions affected are small and the duration is brief. This is the first one I can think of that would have an impact measured in megawatts.
Rain or shine, it won't last long.
antigoracle
1 / 5 (3) Mar 17, 2015
The AGW Cult will take us back to the Dark Ages.
Dethe
1 / 5 (3) Mar 17, 2015
The Moon shadow will burn a glowing line of shortcuts and blackouts in electric grid during its travel along surface of Earth..
Hev
not rated yet Mar 17, 2015
It is only a partial eclipse and not lasting long.
adam_russell_9615
not rated yet Mar 17, 2015
Possibly more, but the cloudy day comes on gradually, or is cloudy from dawn, and the other power sources are already running by the time the maximum loss is felt. A grid can't accept more power than the customers are using, so any excess capacity has to be idle. In the case of an eclipse, the backup sources have to come online in a matter of minutes, which is hard for thermal plants to do. It isn't so much a matter of the percentage lost, as the time span in which it is lost.


Often a cloud moves across the sun, just like the moon does during an eclipse.
antigoracle
1 / 5 (2) Mar 17, 2015
Sounds like this shit show will eclipse the eclipse.
nkalanaga
not rated yet Mar 18, 2015
adam_russell_9615: True, but clouds don't usually cover as large an area, as quickly, as an eclipse. They move slower than the Moon's shadow, and a given cloud seldom covers more than one solar facility at a time. If it's a wide spread cloud cover, it won't be quickly covering and uncovering the facilities, and the other power sources will already be in use.

Basically, the problem here is the same as in any situation where a major generating facility goes offline suddenly. It isn't the loss of capacity that causes the problems, but the possibility of cascading failures, as transmission lines and other facilities overload trying to adjust to the changes. It's happened to numerous grids with no "alternative" generating facilities.
adam_russell_9615
not rated yet Mar 18, 2015
adam_russell_9615: True, but clouds don't usually cover as large an area, as quickly, as an eclipse.


1. an eclipse is only 100 miles across. Cloud shade can easily be that wide.
2. The speed of a cloud can be much faster than the speed of the moon. The moon takes about 3.75 minutes to completely cover the sun. A moving cloud could do the same in under a minute.
Eikka
5 / 5 (1) Mar 18, 2015
The country hardest hit by the brief plunge into darkness is likely to be Germany, which has a solar power capacity of 40,000 MW and where 18 percent of electricity consumption last year came from solar power.


WRONG.

Germany produced 6.1% of its electricity consumption with solar in the year 2014, representing an average of approx. 4,000 MW output on the grid.

However, at their peak all the panels do produce close to 40,000 MW making a 10:1 variation between peak and average, which is a massive problem for the transmission grid.
Eikka
5 / 5 (1) Mar 18, 2015
Don't all solar power grids feed a battery system that then provides power to the electric grid? If the solar goes directly to the electric grid that's a bad design.


There are essentially no batteries or other accumulating devices built for the purpose. None whatsoever. The planners call this scheme the "virtual battery".

It is a bad design.
antigoracle
not rated yet Mar 18, 2015
It is a bad design.

That's what happens when you are guided by idealism. How quickly they have forgotten.
nkalanaga
not rated yet Mar 18, 2015
adam_russell_9615: True, a cloud can cover the Sun quicker at a given spot, but it won't cross a continent as quickly, so the overall effect is slower. It's the sudden changes over large areas that affect the grid. Individual clouds are already factored into the operation. Also, a cloud only shades the area immediately under it, while the eclipse also has a partial effect over a much wider area, resulting in greater fluctuations.
adam_russell_9615
not rated yet Mar 18, 2015
According to NASA, the path of totality doesnt even hit Germany. Not even close. What am I missing here?
http://eclipse.gs...gle.html
adam_russell_9615
not rated yet Mar 21, 2015
Ok, so now it is all over can we get the results of how much an effect it had?

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