It’s remarkable that every news story these days, regardless of its orientation, becomes grist for political grievance. Yesterday, in advance of the eclipse, New York Times reporter Justin Gillis argued that the precision with which scientists predict eclipses should be proof of the legitimacy of climate change. The argument was ridiculous on its face, but it became more ridiculous after the eclipse missed New York City altogether, as Gillis himself must have noticed. (The prediction had called for 90% darkness in the Big Apple.)
While others in the media touted Monday’s eclipse as a bright spot for solar power, the event really highlighted the lingering troubles of relying too much on the sun for electricity.
But that’s only one take. Solar energy critics said the eclipse showed just how sketchy it could be to rely on too much solar power.
“Solar advocates are touting this as some kind of success story,” Tom Pyle, president of the free market Institute for Energy Research, told The Daily Caller News Foundation.
“What it shows quite clearly is that you can’t rely on solar energy without back up generation,” Pyle said.
The first coast-to-coast solar eclipse in 99 years took about 3,400 megawatts of California’s solar power offline Monday, which was less than the forecast. Grid operators were able to compensate for the lapse in solar by ramping up supplies of hydropower and natural gas.
Overall, California grid operators successfully averted any problems with the grid.
“Things went really, really well,” Eric Schmitt, vice president of California’s grid operator told reporters after the eclipse passed. “We’re very pleased with the outcome.”
Reporters also made light of the solar eclipse as well. Reporters with The Washington Post and San Francisco Chronicle watched from the California grid operator’s headquarters to see how they handled the predicted drop in solar power.
*george costanza voice* solar is back, baby pic.twitter.com/0aOe36J1l9
— Dino Grandoni (@dino_grandoni) August 21, 2017
— David R. Baker (@DavidBakerSF) August 21, 2017
Likewise, East Coast grid operators temporarily lost thousands of megawatts of solar power as the eclipse passed by. The PJM Interconnection lost ,2,220 megawatts of power and Duke Energy lost 1,700 megawatts over about an hour, according to Bloomberg.
But grid operators had years to plan for the eclipse, which is a highly predictable event. In contrast, grid operators have much less time, maybe days or hours, to prepare for storms, cloud cover and other short-term weather events that can affect solar power.
“Grid operators had the luxury of preparing for a totally predictable event, which is the exception, not the rule,” Pyle said.
Even so, without backup power from hydroelectric dams and natural gas plants, the massive fluctuation in solar panel could have caused blackouts or even done damage to the grid. Pyle said the eclipse episode supports a report IER published Monday.
IER’s report warned against becoming too reliant on solar power without adequate backup energy sources.
Beyond 6% penetration, “additional solar above the threshold is actively harmful to the ability of operators to maintain the capacity of the grid because it undermines the economics of those energy sources that must continue to provide the capacity to meet peak demand,” IER found.
California gets 14% of its electricity from solar panels, which is already causing some issues. California generates so much power at times, it has to pay other states to take it from them.
“Until the storage problem is solved, solar will remain a headache for utilities and grid operators, even if it is not politically correct to admit,” Pyle said.
This report, by Michael Bastasch, was cross posted by arrangement with the Daily Caller News Foundation.