The Great American Solar Eclipse on August 21, 2017 will be the first total eclipse to darken the US skies since 1979. Renewable energy was not even remotely part of the equation back then when the Energy Crisis hit that year and the price of crude oil shot up to $39.50 per barrel. In fact, the first MW scale solar plant in the US hadn’t even been built yet. That plant came online in 1982.
Today, U.S. solar output has reached 42 GW and is the fastest growing option for the power generation needs of homes, businesses and utilities. As a result, the rare solar eclipse event this month has become cause for Superbowl-esque viewing plans, while business and industry leaders prepare for the impact on the electrical grid.
Here are three important things to know before the solar spotlight dims on August 21st:
Solar Is a Connected Asset
Fourteen states in “path of totality” from Oregon to South Carolina have emerged as the proverbial “playoff teams” for the Great American Solar Eclipse with fans making travel and party plans to optimize viewing. Although the skies will darken along a 70-mile stretch of land in the coast to coast path, businesses and home owners who rely on solar renewable energy sources need not worry about losing power. Why? Because solar sources, even those on business rooftops, are not self-contained; rather they remain part of the power grid.
When any type of solar power plant is built, part of the process is to work with the local grid on upgrades as needed to enable seamless integration between all energy sources. For example, at our GE corporate office campus in Schenectady, New York, a 2.26 solar power installation we will experience a 0.72 partial eclipse at 2:42 p.m. on August 21st and our production will be lower than normal all afternoon. Much like on a cloudy day, the campus will pull power from the grid to make up the difference – with negligible impact on the project’s lifetime savings. Click here to watch a video on this project’s impact.
The Benefit of Foresight
When a business’ power source is impacted by an unexpected weather event like a blizzard or lightning, there can be a lag time before a back-up generator restores power. Solar eclipse events, on the other hand, are well known in advance based on the path of the sun and moon.
With the advent of digital technology, energy providers throughout the ecosystem have been able to model countless scenarios for managing anticipated reductions in solar energy generation during the Great American Solar Eclipse. Game plans are in place from California to North Carolina to meet power needs during the eclipse with other energy sources, and then reintroduce solar power as the sun reappears. While California is not directly in the upcoming eclipse’s path, the state boasts nearly half the nation’s solar generating capacity. The California Independent System Operator is expected to manage a ramp-up of about 5,900 MW as the moon shadow moves east and solar comes back online.
Who’s Up for Round 2(024)?
The North American Electric Reliability Corporation has said the August 21st eclipse is not likely to disrupt the continent’s bulk power system but it will provide utilities and businesses like Current by GE with even more data to inform strategic planning for the future, including the next total solar eclipse in the U.S. which is less than 7 years away on April 8, 2024 from Texas to Maine. During that short period of time, we’re expected to almost quadruple the installed base of solar in the US. We will certainly triple it.
Businesses today should be leveraging the incredible energy planning options available, like controllable LEDs, onsite solar, energy storage and Energy Management Systems that can work together to create predictable, affordable energy that also addresses sustainability goals. While the potential impact of the next solar eclipse will be even greater from a macro point of view, we will also have a deeper and more powerful options. Our solar energy systems will have the added benefits of better analytics, cost-effective energy storage, and even better building controls.
As business leaders, the next time around you should be positioned as a seamless part of the grid -- and able to make plans with your team to enjoy the show in the sky.
To estimate the energy savings of a commercial solar power installation from Current, powered by GE, click here.
About the Author
Erik Schiemann, General Manager, Solar
Erik leads a comprehensive global strategy for Current's solar solutions which provide solar power technology and solutions for commercial buildings and industrial facilities for energy efficient projects.