Eclipse 2017: Grid Operators Make the Extraordinary Rather Boring (ESA Blog)

ESA Blog

by Kelly Speakes-Backman
CEO
Energy Storage Association

I think it’s safe to say that across the U.S. people are gearing up for the rare total solar eclipse next week, getting their plans in place, buying proper viewing glasses, and reading up on the celestial phenomenon.

Many of us have been planning for days or weeks, but grid operators and utilities have been preparing for this event for much longer – and energy storage systems are going to play a meaningful role on August 21, just as they do every day of the year.

Around the moment the moon is directly in the path of the sun (covering up to 70% of the sun’s rays), areas with high concentrations of solar power may see a dip in production across the country lasting about two hours. The two main regions of the country that will be impacted the most are California and North Carolina, both solar energy leaders in the US.

And while the eclipse itself is rather rare – the next total eclipse passing over the U.S. will be in 2024 – for utilities, their obligation to serve continues unabated.

Our electric grid is a constant balancing act, with supply and demand changing every second of every day. Grid operators and utilities are tasked with ensuring that supply and demand are in balance at all times, using all resources at their disposal to deliver reliable and affordable power for everyone.

An Integrated Grid Toolkit

Unlike some grid challenges, eclipses are entirely predictable and manageable, and grid operators have been preparing for months for this isolated event. The authorities that oversee grid reliability and operations – namely the North American Electric Reliability Corporation (NERC) and the Federal Energy Regulatory Authority (FERC) – have released white papers that affirm that the eclipse will not pose a significant threat to system reliability.

The impact of the eclipse will be largely negligible because utilities have a suite of tools available to call upon to deal with challenges every day. Widespread energy storage systems, positioned at the center of a flexible, dynamic grid ecosystem that are able to respond instantly to mitigate and prevent grid disruptions.

When the moon overtakes our view of the sun on Monday, solar power systems in some regions will see a significant reduction in their output. If it’s a sunny day, nearly 6,000 MW will be impacted in California and up to 3,000 MW in North Carolina. If it’s a cloudy day, the eclipse will have very little impact on the already reduced solar output that day.

And therein lies the main point: on any given day, change in electricity supply and demand is a constant. We have experience in change.

Storage Is Here: Sunny, Cloudy, or Celestial Shadow from 250,000 Miles Away

The Solar Eclipse Could Become a Massive Test Case for Grid Storage, GTM

Grid operators have many assets at their disposal to address these challenges. The most recent addition to this toolkit is fast-responding, dynamic energy storage systems that can be leveraged in multiple ways to mitigate and prevent system disruptions.

Energy storage systems are operational across the country, and every day they are deployed to provide energy and system capacity, constantly balancing supply and demand, and augmenting the entire transmission and distribution system to be more reliable, efficient, sustainable and affordable. More than 25 gigawatts of energy storage system are already in operation, and by the end of 2017 the U.S. will put another 1 GW into service.

Speed matters in situations like the cosmic ballet of a solar eclipse. And advanced energy storage systems respond in a matter of seconds, providing an immediate and exacting response to the needs of the grid at any given moment.

Proven Dependable

Throughout Monday, like every day that energy storage is deployed, utilities and operators will leverage the multiple benefits of storage. Whether it’s the response to a spike in demand, an outage from a squirrel munching on distribution wires, or the shadow of our nearest cosmic neighbor obstructing the sun, energy storage systems are proven and dependable, contributing to efficient and reliable grid operations. These systems are just beginning to contribute to a more modern, resilient, sustainable and affordable grid, and I expect will prove their mettle on Monday across the country.