Today’s solar eclipse (at about 8.30am Scottish Mean Time) presents an unprecedented continuity of supply-test for Europe’s electricity systems with the potential loss of 35,000MW of energy generating capacity when the Moon covers about 85% of The Sun.
David Hunter, Energy Analyst at Schneider Electric, explains: “European grids have been working hard to ensure the eclipse does not lead to outages. By simulating a progressive reduction in solar generation at the time the eclipse rolls across Europe, grids can avoid that ‘sudden drop off’ that could trigger outages.
“The challenges presented by the solar eclipse are a window to the future. Grids already have to cope with constant variability with wind and solar changes. However, as the proportion of renewables increases within the energy mix, the impact of weather changes will be more complex to manage.
“There are a number of responses to this future energy challenge that are underway. Greater interconnection of European markets will help to smooth localised fluctuations in supply. While anticipated surges in demand can be handled by utilities working in co-operation with consumers to be more energy efficient, along with producers factoring in the charging or retraction of energy from storage technologies.
Short-term grid balancing, combined with flexible responses from both industrial and domestic consumers will help, all facilitated by smart, connected technology.”
Scott Henneberry, Strategy & Innovation VP, Smart Grid Strategy at Schneider Electric, added;“Even though The Sun will be out of sight during the solar eclipse, it will not be out of the smart grid’s mind. The solar eclipse is just one example of how the intermittency of renewables can quickly change the dynamics (and therefore the stability) of the grid. And, why it is imperative that the transition to a connected, intelligent and responsive grid takes place.
“Today, with the percentage of total generation by renewables less than 15%in most regions, this intermittency issue is manageable by grid operators. Yet, there is a global effort to increase renewables within the energy mix.
“Solar represents around 3%of the UK’s electricity. However, if we fast forward to 2020 and the UK installs 10 million homes with solar panels as expected, we will be looking at solar accounting for 6% of energy generated, with the EU goal of 20% by 2020.”