Utility companies in solar-heavy states like California, New Jersey, and North Carolina are gearing up for the eclipse traversing the U.S. later this month, which could block an estimated 9,000 megawatts of solar power, enough to supply 7 million homes.
Utility operators told Bloomberg News that they will fill the several-hour void in energy generation with natural gas and hydropower. They are also seeking advice from grid operators in Germany, which experienced a similar eclipse in 2015.
“Our solar plants are going to lose over half of their ability to generate electricity during the two to two-and-a-half hours that the eclipse will be impacting our area,” Steven Greenlee, spokesperson for the California Independent System Operator (CAISO) — one of the world’s largest independent grid operators — told Vox.
Interestingly, the eclipse provides utilities a glimpse of the future role natural gas will play “in the U.S. power mix as solar energy’s backup,” experts told Bloomberg News. Solar power in the U.S. has grown nine-fold since 2012, and the country had 1.4 million solar installations — mainly rooftop photovoltaic panels — at the end of last year. By 2040, renewable energy is forecast to supply as much electricity in the U.S. as natural gas.
The “electric grid of tomorrow” will increasingly have to deal with fluctuating power supply from renewables while relying on natural gas during events like the upcoming eclipse, CAISO President Stephen Berberich told Bloomberg.