Energy consultancy Frost & Sullivan estimate that by covering 85% of the sun; the eclipse removed 35GW of solar power from the European grid – equivalent to 80 conventional power plants.

This sort of instability will drive generators to invest in better storage facilities to ensure a constant security of supply, according to the consultants.

“Dealing with events like this one requires investment in various storage tools and monitoring techniques which create a certain amount of flexibility in the energy system,” said the report.

The nascent technology of pump storage – pumping water uphill into large reservoirs when power is abundant and then letting it flow down again to generate power when needed – will reportedly be valuable in preparing for the eclipse in Germany.

UK resiliency

The UK was be less impacted by the eclipse than other EU countries, because solar power only accounts for around 2% of installed capacity compared to 7% for Germany.

While more than half of UK solar generation could have been lost, grid technicians say the dip was offset by the number of people stepping outside to watch the eclipse.

Energy security

Experts believe the eclipse will be a useful training exercise rather than a genuine energy crisis, as a spokeswoman for the European Photovoltaic Industry Association told the Guardian that the eclipse was a predictable event and therefore little risk to the security of the grid.

“In comparison a failure of a large power plant would be more difficult to address, as typically such events occur without warning. Everyday demand is more volatile than the solar eclipse and grid operators are able to keep the system running and have done so for almost a century. If the weather is a bit cloudy, the eclipse will go unnoticed,” she said. 

Storage

While energy storage is still broadly undeveloped, in December the UK switched on Europe’s largest battery as part of a project to assess the role of energy storage in delivering the UK’s Carbon Plan.

A European-Japanese team of scientists is also working on the problem by exploring hydrogen storage which, as the name suggest, allows excess energy from renewables to be stored as hydrogen.

Brad Allen

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