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Solar eclipse could strain Europe's power grid

A solar eclipse Friday could knock out photovoltaic power production. Scientists say the rapid expansion of solar panels makes the solar event an unprecedented test for Europe’s grid.

Ringförmige Sonnenfinsternis

Total solar eclipses are a rare event. The last total solar eclipse visible in Europe was in 1999.

Sunny skies preceding Friday's solar eclipse could wreak havoc on Europe's power grid, the region's power providers warned this week.

If the morning of March 20 turns out to be especially sunny before the moon moves between the sun and earth to block most of the sun's rays, the sudden drop-off in solar energy production could reach 34,000 megawatts (MW) – equivalent to about 80 medium-sized conventional power plants, according to the European Network of Transmission System Operators for Electricity (Entso-e).

"For the first time this is expected to have a relevant impact on the secure operation of the European power system," Entso-e said in a statement. "Solar eclipses have happened before but with the increase of installed photovoltaic energy generation, the risk of an incident could be serious without appropriate countermeasures."

That's because solar production has increased nearly a hundredfold since 1999 - the last comparable solar eclipse in Europe.

Germany, with a solar capacity of 40,000 megawatts, stands to take the hardest hit by the 2-minute plunge into afternoon darkness. Add Italy (with a capacity of 20,000 megawatts) and Spain (6,700 megawatts) as well as France (5,700 megawatts) as countries with significant solar power production.

Technicians monitoring western Europe's power grids will coordinate with each other to compensate for a sizeable drop in production to minimize disruptions, said Konstantin Staschus, secretary general of Entso-e.

"Control centers in Europe will be in constant communication during the eclipse,” Straschus said.

If the weather is overcast – not unusual for the month of March – the impact should be negligible, the Germany's Fraunhofer Institute for Solar Energy Systems said recently.

Scientists at the Freiburg-based institute ran models showing that conventional power plants and water released at hydrodams should be able to help mitigate the impact from a drop in solar production.

Germany's 1.4 million solar installations comprised nearly 6 percent of its energy mix in 2014, but

this is increasing

in order to reach its 2050 target of sourcing 80 percent of its energy from renewable sources.

jar/kms (AP, AFP)

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