Science

Solar eclipse will test Germany's green power grid

Will next week's partial solar eclipse turn off the lights in Germany? Experts say the eclipse on the morning of March 20 will be a good test of the country's electricity grid, which relies increasingly on renewable energy.

Eclipse will cause a sudden drop and then a surge in solar-generated power

A partial solar eclipse on the morning of March 20 will be a good test of Germany's electricity grid, which relies increasingly on renewable energy. (Lane Hickenbottom/Reuters)

Will next week's partial solar eclipse turn off the lights in Germany?

Experts say the country's electricity grid, which relies increasingly on renewable energy, faces a crucial test on the morning of March 20, when the moon will pass in front of the sun and block up to 82 per cent of its light across Germany.

This partial eclipse will cause a sudden drop and then a surge in solar-generated power that will have to be balanced out to avoid instability in the grid, Germany's Fraunhofer Institute for Solar Energy Systems said Friday.

Scientists at the Freiburg-based institute ran simulations showing that conventional power plants and hydroelectricity pump-storage facilities should be able to cushion the impact of the eclipse.

They found that the strain on the grid would be greatest on a sunny day — such as March 20, 2014 — when the drop and subsequent rebound would be strongest. Grid operators have likened the effect to 12 large power plants being switched off and 19 being switched on in a short space of time.

Impact expected to be negligible

If the weather is overcast, the impact should be negligible, the Fraunhofer institute found.

Solar power from some 1.4 million installations contributed almost six per cent to Germany's energy mix last year, but is set to rise steadily as Europe's biggest economy strives to meet 80 per cent of its energy needs from renewable sources by 2050. Germany currently gets almost 26 per cent of its electricity from renewables, including solar, wind, biomass and hydroelectric plants.

The upcoming eclipse will help grid operators plan for the next comparable event in 2026, when Germany expects to have shuttered its nuclear power stations.

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