Will the March 20th total solar eclipse impact Europe’s solar energy grid?

Posted: March 13, 2015 by oldbrew in Energy, Uncertainty
Tags: ,

Residential solar panels in Germany.  Credit: Wikimedia Commons/ Sideka Solartechnik

Residential solar panels in Germany.
Credit: Wikimedia Commons/ Sideka Solartechnik

Could countries heavily committed to solar power like Germany run into problems during next week’s solar eclipse?

Phys.org reports:
The first eclipse of 2015 is coming right up on Friday, March 20th, and may provide a unique challenge for solar energy production across Europe.

Sure, we’ve been skeptical about many of the websites touting a ‘blackout’ and Y2K-like doom pertaining to the March 20th total solar eclipse as of late. And while it’s true that comets and eclipses really do bring out the ‘End of the World of the Week’ -types across ye ole web, there’s actually a fascinating story of science at the core of next week’s eclipse and the challenge it poses to energy production.

But first, a brief recap of the eclipse itself. Dubbed the “Equinox Eclipse,” totality only occurs over a swath of the North Atlantic and passes over distant Faroe and Svalbard Islands. Germany and central Europe can expect an approximately 80% partially obscured Sun at the eclipse’s maximum.

But is there a cause for concern when it comes to energy production?

Read the full report here.

A wild card here could be the weather next Friday – cloudy or not.

  1. M Simon says:

    They will make up for it with dark energy.

    BTW eclipses are more predictable than clouds.

  2. oldbrew says:

    Another issue: less wind too.

    ‘Solar eclipses don’t just turn the lights out; they also make the wind slow down and change direction.’


    ‘Temperatures also fell by an average of about 1°C.’ (1999 eclipse, UK)

    So when the eclipse arrives: put the kettle on, turn up the electric fire and watch the action 😉

  3. Oh FFS! No!

    “The projected effect of the March 20th eclipse on solar power production.” is ONLY a model.

    Have a look how much PV solar was generated last year around the same time; and then the 2013 figures. Year to year variations are substantial. Although 24GW can be “expected” at noon, it’s pretty much the “worst case”. Also, the rise in output is not dissimlar to rises due to other conditions. The stuff doesn’t all flick off at the same time and then come back all at once.
    (I frequent http://www.agora-energiewende.org/service/recent-electricity-data/ )

    And any “atmospherics” like clouds or even snow on PV play a significant role.

    There’s adequate capacity in pumped storage to “fill the hole” and then capacity available to smooth out a rapid return.

  4. Ben Vorlich says:

    I have puzzled over this for a few weeks now.

    If if is a clear or even a partially cloudy day then the affect on Solar PV on properties will be noticeable. It’s hard to find a figure on just what is installed on roofs in the UK. As the sun becomes obscured then the output from roof PV will drop off. A large part of this is not fed onto the grid but is used on site. As we’re talking about working hours the power will be replaced by taking power off the grid. So you are left with the situation where commercial PV parks will see an almost total cessation of output at the same time as an increase in demand happens

    The only data I can find says there was 1GW installed in the UK in 2012. With 22GW by 2020. So a guess would be that there is about 8GW installed now. So again as a rough estimate at that time in the morning (9:30) about 3GW would go off line and demand would go up by 1.5GW. So an additional 4.5GW would be required from somewhere. The situation would be exacerbated by a low wind morning, as on windy days winds contribution is 3 to 7 GW. So if you wanted politicians to get a wake-up call you’d hope for a very cold windless morning across Northern Europe.

    I’d be interested in what the real data is for the above conjecture.

  5. tchannon says:

    Anyone know the UK practice over domestic self powering of a site by a grid connected PV? Safety issues.

    Forecast is low wind sunny with some high cloud over UK/Germany. Spain is more variable. Forecasting this far out is dubious.

    I’d be very surprised if there is a problem since events of this nature are obvious and planned. OTOH I doubt domestic PV has a remote turn off facility but will disconnect if the grid fails, a safety cutout. Reason for a remote turn off would be regulating the rate of power loss during an eclipse, turn some off earlier.

  6. Brian H says:

    Pathetic to have any dependence on a power source that can be impacted by eclipses, etc.

  7. oldbrew says:

    A graphic shows the path of the eclipse here:


    Northern Scotland is the nearest part of the UK to the full eclipse but it’s only 97-98%.

  8. oldbrew says:

    ‘Europe braces for ‘unprecedented’ power issues from solar eclipse’

    ‘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’


    Current forecast for Frankfurt, central Germany: cloudy or partly cloudy.


  9. JohnM says:

    “German solar power output of 21.7 GW dropped to a low point of 6.2 GW and then added another 15 GW over the course of the planetary event”


  10. oldbrew says:

    Thanks JohnM. What doesn’t get many headlines is that some major industrial users were told, or should that be ‘advised’, to power down for the duration of the eclipse e.g. do some maintenance instead.

    That’s OK for once-a-decade events when solar is fully supported by back-up systems, but in the years ahead that can’t be the case if the likes of Germany and Italy continue policies of replacing thermal and/or nuclear generation with wind and solar. Regular switch-offs and/or rolling backouts could well come into play.