On March 20th the moon will pass in front of the sun and block out that star’s light. For the suddenly solar-crazy continent, that could have a devastating if brief effect on Europe’s energy supply. The FT reports:
Solar power covered just 0.1 per cent of all the electricity produced in Europe from renewable energy sources around the time of the last large solar eclipse in Europe in 1999, according to the network, known as ENTSO-E. But since then solar power generation has soared to at least 10.5 per cent, as countries subsidise green power to meet EU renewable energy targets. […]“The risk of incident cannot be completely ruled out,” the European Network Transmission System Operators for Electricity said on Monday, adding the eclipse on March 20 would be “an unprecedented test for Europe’s electricity system”.
Solar eclipses haven’t been this feared since the Middle Ages, because up until now they haven’t posed an actual threat, superstition aside. Sure, next month’s eclipse will only last around two hours, and the next one won’t occur until 2026, but this event highlights one of the biggest shortcoming’s of today’s renewables: their intermittency. We need power ’round the clock, but solar panels can only produce when the sun is shining. When supply can’t meet demand, we have a problem.One answer is to continue to research and develop better storage technologies, so that on those sunny days we can prepare for periods of peak demand, typically in the evening, or perhaps events like this impending eclipse. As it stands, we’re unable to do that, which sets a real limit on the degree to which we can rely on renewables, as Europe seems about to find out.