It is no secret that this Monday, August 21st, there will be a total solar eclipse visible from a 112 km (70 mile) wide strip for thousands of miles across the United States. And outside of this area, a partial eclipse will still be visible. Millions are expected to come out for the event, some even planning to travel to sites where the total eclipse will be able to be seen. But will the eclipse be simply an incredible phenomenon that we might not witness again, or will it interfere with life on Earth? Specifically, with technology that relies on the sun to function? It seems it could: Eric Schmitt, vice president for operations at the California Independent System Operator (which is in charge of California’s electric grid) is preparing for a huge blow to its solar panels .
According to the New York Times, at its peak, the eclipse is expected to knock out over 5,600 megawatts’ worth of solar panels. This is a massive piece of the total 19,000 megawatts that currently provide California with 10% of its electricity. The plan for filling this deficit is to use additional power from hydroelectric sources and natural gas. An additional challenge will be faced after the eclipse when these solar grids will quickly spring back to life. Those operating the grid will have to quickly react by scaling back hydroelectric and gas power accordingly; a delicate dance between energy sources.
While this will be a challenge for those managing electric grids across the country, according to Randy Wheeless, a spokesperson for Duke Energy, “this is going to be a good exercise for us.” Solar power is becoming an increasingly dominant source of energy and so, while it might be strange to consider the impact of infrequent phenomena like eclipses, as solar energy rises in popularity, they are important considerations. Perhaps this event will inspire solar panel developers to incorporate such variables into future designs.