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Natural Disaster
Eclipse Could Turn Out Europe’s Lights

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.

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  • Fat_Man

    “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”

    Don’t waste money like that. There is no possible method that can safely, economically, and reliably store energy in the quantities required to keep an industrial society operating smoothly.

    You have taken research to be a talisman or magic trick. Research cannot find a path outside of the laws of nature. Those laws are well understood in the environments where humans live and work.

  • FriendlyGoat

    We were hoping that inventor, Ronald Ace, had a possible answer to storing heat from solar to generate 24/7. But have we heard anything new from him since 2013? At one time he was filing patents all over the world for “heat trap” solar technology. Dead end?

  • iconoclast

    Hmmm, better storage technologies. How about using an inexpensive and ubiquitous gas containing 20,000 BTUs / lb as a way to store, transport and release energy? Clean burning with little real environmental impact too.

  • Pait

    Solar power has to deal with the fact that the sun shines for only 12 hours a day, in average. When there are no clouds, Storage technologies combined with the use of other sources make solar power possible.

    A short eclipse every now and then makes next to no difference in this scenario. To keep it short: you don’t know what you writing about.

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