Dr Jonathan Scurlock is the NFU’s Chief Adviser on Renewable Energy and Climate Change – his background is in university and government research on energy and the environment.
Friday's extensive partial solar eclipse presents a new challenge to the widespread uptake of solar power in Europe over the past 10 years, albeit one that is likely to be accommodated in the future by further developments in renewable electricity generation and storage.
Italy's transmission grid network is apparently requesting medium and large-scale solar photovoltaic installations to shut down for the duration of the eclipse, although Germany (with twice as much solar capacity as Italy – 38 gigawatts vs. 18 GW) has no such formal plans.
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In principle, Friday morning's eclipse will cause a slump (followed by a rise) in solar generation much faster than normal sunset/sunrise, and more geographically widespread than an accumulation of dark storm clouds.
However, the actual impact will depend upon the prevailing cloud cover, as well as whether people stopping activity to watch the eclipse cause a simultaneous reduction in electricity demand.
The eclipse is also highly predictable in its extent, and so while it is a kind of 'stress test', it is not anticipated to cause significant disruption to electricity networks. In most countries (like the UK), the amount of generation going offline for 1-2 hours is no more than might be caused by a series of linked power station outages. Its timing in the European early to mid-morning makes it probably less severe than a future eclipse taking place, say, in the late afternoon.
Total and extensive partial eclipses are rare, and by the time the next big one hits Europe (2026) there is likely to be much more integration of solar power with various kinds of electricity storage. Still, it is a sobering reminder of how dependent our civilisation is ultimately on the power of the sun....
The partial solar eclipse across Britain will see 85-95% of the sun’s disc blocked by the moon’s shadow, reaching its maximum at around 0930 GMT on Friday 20th March.
The NFU Energy Service provides business advice to NFU members on energy efficiency and a range of renewables, to help increase farm profits while reducing environmental impact – members can call 0370 844 5700 or enquire through the dedicated web site.