Fossil Fuels Save Europe From Blackouts During Solar Eclipse
Europe would have been in a heap of trouble Friday morning if its coal and natural gas-fired power plants weren’t ready to boost energy production when millions of solar panels went offline during a total solar eclipse.
Friday’s eclipse caused 13 gigawatts of solar power to go offline across Germany, less than grid operators initially predicted, but that drop in power was balanced out by ramping up some idle coal and natural gas-fired power plants.
“It would have been difficult to deal with a situation like today without conventional power plants,” Philipp Goetz, a consultant at Energy Brainpool, told Bloomberg. “The market has reacted well. People made an effort to buy or sell the power on the market. Only about 30 percent of the balancing power tendered had to be called for by the grid operators. So we haven’t been at the verge of a blackout.”
Unlike past eclipses over Europe, officials were worried that the millions of solar panels across the continent would abruptly halt production and potentially cause rolling blackouts. But utilities had ample time to prepare for Friday’s eclipse, getting traditional power plants ready to come online and balance the system.
Britain’s National Grid operator predicted it would lose 850 megawatts during the solar eclipse, and Spanish utility Red Electrica raised power reserve levels for the event and disconnected large consumers from the grid. In Italy, the energy company Terna said 4.4 gigawatts would be lost during the eclipse.
But it was Germany, Europe’s largest green energy producer, that was most worried about the impacts of the eclipse. And it’s not just based on worries of blackouts. Germany wants to prove its $412 billion green energy plan is working and can overcome major hurdles.
“It’s tougher to manage the grid with a high penetration of wind and solar,” Pietro Radoia, a solar energy analyst at Bloomberg New Energy Finance, said. “But going forward, grid operators are going to get better at managing. And it’s possible that battery storage will help them out.”
Fortunately for Germany, things went smoothly during this eclipse. Though at times, power prices ranged from 950 euros per megawatt to negative 130 euros per megawatt. When prices are negative, it means that energy companies are essentially being paid not to produce anything.
But Germany’s heavy reliance on solar power — up to 40 percent of the country’s power on a really sunny day — will have to overcome more than just eclipses. Clouds, storms, snow and a whole host of other weather events that are less predictable than the moon’s orbit can throw the grid into disarray unless there is adequate back up power.
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