A great deal of the media coverage about this week’s solar eclipse in Europe is around its impact on the grid:

Europe’s Solar Power Industry Braces for Solar Eclipse

Can a solar eclipse shut down Europe?

Will the March 20th Total Solar Eclipse Impact Europe’s Solar Energy Grid?

The headlines may be juicy, but here’s some behind-the-scenes insight, especially as it applies to microgrids:

 

1. It’s likely to be an expensive and time critical exercise.

Here’s what we know:

“Under a clear morning sky on 20 March 2015, some 35,000 megawatts of solar energy, which is the equivalent of nearly 80 medium size conventional generation units, will gradually fade from Europe’s electrical system before being gradually re-injected: all in the space of two hours,” ENTSO-E

Here’s a graph of what it should look like:

European Eclipse Graph

  • Based on the photovoltaics they’ve deployed, Germany, Spain, Romania and Austria will be most affected by the event. 
  • It is likely that they will have to increase the availability of spinning reserves.

  • Given the rapid change in power output by solar farms, they may have to curtail solar generators in order to facilitate the ramp times of the spinning reserve.

  • It may even be the case that they use a demand management strategy to address the power imbalance at particular points in the grid.

(Many thanks to Alan O’Kelly from Premium Power for these insights).

2. Solar forecasting is usually a lot harder.

If you turn on a diesel generator, you get a steady stream of power until you turn it off. Solar panels aren’t like that, they’re variable. And because the rest of the grid has to compensate, you want to be able to forecast those variations.

Now, for any given area, on any given day, you can forecast sunrise, sunset, and sunlight based on the path of the sun. You can also forecast sunlight based on the weather report.

But things like local cloud cover and fog are highly variable throughout the day.

So current research is focused around High Resolution Solar Forecasting, which gives us a real-time look at upcoming peaks and valleys.

3. An eclipse is a piece of cake for a microgrid.

A solar eclipse isn’t a problem for a well-designed and well-integrated microgrid system that’s modeling real-time data. Because every day, multiple things can affect the balance of a microgrid:

  • Cloud cover creates instability in the power coming from solar panels
  • The price of fuel goes up or down
  • The demand for power goes up or down
  • The utility grid experiences blackouts and brownouts

A well-designed microgrid can combine solar forecasting data with inverter control, energy storage, and the cost of other power generation options in real time. It can then look at multiple alternatives and coordinate them automatically to minimize costs, optimize assets, and minimize liabilities.

Our Approach to Microgrids

Every microgrid project we do starts with a feasibility study and a power model built in DesignBase. We pressure-test the model to create a system that can handle the multiple peaks and valleys in the demand for power and reserves available at any given time.  After installation, the model is ready to drop into Paladin Live, for the day to day monitoring and controlling of all the grid elements.

 

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