How Does a Solar Eclipse Affect Energy Output?


Solar eclipses are perhaps the most fascinating celestial event that’s easily visible from Earth with the naked eye. Not only do they take place in the middle of broad daylight, but they impact the brightest thing in the sky: the sun itself. A solar eclipse is when the path of the moon’s obit puts it directly between the earth and the sun, causing the moon to block out the sun—sometimes just a small portion but on rare occasion in its entirety.

Last year, the United States experienced something that hadn’t been seen in nearly a century: a total solar eclipse that crossed the entire country. With so many solar installations depending on full, uninhibited sunlight for maximum efficiency and production, this brought up a lot of questions. Just how much would this one-in-a-lifetime celestial event affect the nation’s rapidly-growing dependence on solar energy? On this blog, we’ll take a look at what this event did and how you can prepare as a solar energy system owner.

The National Impact of a Total Solar Eclipse

When the moon blocked out the sun all across the country on August 21st, 2017, sunlight levels dipped heavily all across the country. Even though the total eclipse lasted a mere two minutes at each location along its path, this was enough to put a massive dent in solar production, particularly on massive plants that produce energy for entire areas.

The Western Electricity Coordinating Council, which covers the majority of the Mountain and Pacific time zones, estimates that their territory produces approximately 25 gigawatts of power through solar means, with the entire country producing approximately 44 gigawatts.

However, estimates say that the total eclipse, even though it’s only slated to last a couple of minutes, could plunge solar generation levels as much as five gigawatts below normal production levels. To put that into perspective, that’s enough energy to power one million homes. That means that grids all across the country could expect to see added strain as solar production plants struggle to keep up with demands, and which means that alternative generation plants, such as gas turbines and hydro-generation were necessary to supply the extra power needed to compensate for solar not being able to keep up with the load. Fortunately, total eclipses are entirely predictable, and efforts were able to put in place in order to fill in the gap and keep service alive for everyone.

The Impact on Your Solar Panels

So what does this mean for you and your home or business’s solar energy system? When brought down to a smaller scale, the impact is much smaller. With the sun’s energy being blocked out temporarily, you can expect a lull in your energy production, and thus you will likely need to have the public grid fill in when your panels can’t keep up. It’s exceedingly rare that this becomes an issue and causes your power to go out completely.

However, what happens when you’ve gone “off the grid” and become completely self-reliant for your energy sources? When your panels can’t keep up, it is theoretically feasible to imagine your energy would shut off because your system wouldn’t be able to keep up with your demand. Knowing the eclipse is coming and shutting off all available devices to reduce your power draw is one way to help, but it isn’t guaranteed.

Instead, this is when a power storage solution will shine. Home battery backup systems are a rapidly-growing in popularity, and often times they provide you with the reliable source of energy you need to keep the lights on and withstand the sudden dip as a result of a total solar eclipse.

To learn more about installing a solar energy system or battery backup power in your home, call SunPower by Sea Bright Solar at (732) 253-4052 today!

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