So, what happens when all that solar energy suddenly decamps for an hour or two?
No one really knows, in terms of how the electricity grid will cope. The eclipse is expected to disrupt about 5,600 megawatts worth of solar power as it traverses northern California this morning, with the state's grid operator compensating with other sources. Thanks to a bounteous rainfall this past winterfinally!California's hydropower resources are abundant, and there's plenty of natural gas to cover the balance.
And then, just as suddenly, all those solar panels will spring back to life as the eclipse ends. The resulting surge of energy coming online will be just as interesting to watch, in terms of how the state's power system adjusts and responds.
Fortunately, there's been plenty of time to plan; it wasn't as if today's event came from out of the blue. And the impacts on America's biggest state and the world's eighth-largest economy should be minimal. Or not. With luck, all that planning will make for a boring day energy-wise.
All of this is more than mere academic curiosity.
The performance during the eclipse of intermittent energy resources like solar, when deployed at scale, will help us understand their reliability during other disruptions, such as from a changing climate and weather patterns that blow hot and cold. Today's event will give us a peek into what's needed to ensure that renewable energy continues to find its place in the sun.
By the next total eclipse, in 2024, solar and other renewables could contribute a third or more of US generating capacity. We've got just seven years to figure out how to make that work.