California grid prepares for solar eclipse

Monday, July 31, 2017

As a total solar eclipse approaches for North America, California electricity regulators have launched a voluntary demand response program designed to reduce power consumption during the eclipse while solar panel output is reduced.

The eclipse will occur on August 21, 2017, and is projected to reduce solar photovoltaic production in the California ISO region by 4,194 megawatts.  Taking gross load increases and estimated wind production into account, CAISO has been told to expect a net load increase of 6,008 MW during the eclipse.

According to the nation's electric reliability organization, NERC, the August 21 eclipse "is not expected to impact the reliability of the bulk power system."  But as NERC also noted, "As the number of photovoltaic generators on the power system increases, the risk created by solar eclipses to reliable system operations will increase as well."

Now, the California Public Utilities Commission has launched a "Do Your Thing for the Sun" or "Cal Eclipse" program.  On its website, the Commission asks, "While our utilities and grid operator have all the tools necessary to manage the grid during the eclipse, what if millions of Californians stepped in to allow our hard working sun to take a break, rather than relying on expensive and inefficient natural gas peaking power plants?"

The website asks consumers to "Take the Pledge", emphasizing the value of "joining a movement of Californians who are taking action during the eclipse to give the sun a break by saving energy and reducing GHG emissions." According to a two-page FAQ posted on the website, consumers can reduce electricity consumption by turning off electronics when leaving, and permanently decrease electricity consumption with energy efficiency measures.  Actions suggested on the pledge website include replacing light bulbs with LEDs, reducing lighting use and electronics charging, unplugging unused appliances, and increasing air conditioning temperature setpoints by 2-5 degrees.

According to the Commission's FAQ, "There is no reason to anticipate any eclipse-related electric service outages because of the reduced solar generation."

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