Will March 2015 Solar Eclipse Cause Blackouts?

Almost 90% of the sun’s rays will be blocked out in parts of Europe on Friday 20th March 2015 by a major solar eclipse. The eclipse will last 90 minutes, peaking at 9.30am, and will be visible from Turkey to Greenland and from Spain to Norway.

The last major solar eclipse was in August 1999, which was the first seen in the UK since 1927. This time, 85% of the sun visible in London and the South East could see covered by the moon while in northern Scotland more than 95% will be covered.

Why March’s eclipse could cause problems

The 2015 eclipse is causing concern for power companies because it’s the first since a big leap in the number of energy generation units connected to the grid over the last 10 years.

Of course, the sun disappears every day when it goes down. But a solar eclipse happens faster than a normal sunrise and sunset. Unlike nighttime, when energy demands are less because people are asleep, a solar eclipse occurs during the day when power-use is greater.

Solar power will drop dramatically

Solar output in Britain will fall to half during the event, The National Grid warns. But blackouts are unlikely because so little electricity in the UK comes from solar power.

Europe, on the other hand, generates more solar power than the UK and parts could be plunged into darkness.

The European Network of Transmission System Operators (ENTSO-E ) have been preparing for the eclipse for several months and have said the risk of incident cannot be entirely ruled out:

“Under a clear morning sky on 20 March 2015, some 35,000 MW of solar energy, which is the equivalent of nearly 80 medium size conventional generation units, will gradually fade from Europe’s electrical system before being gradually re-injected: all in the space of two hours while Europeans and their offices begin a normal working weekday.”

Securing Europe’s energy supply

Measures to reduce the risks have been taken, according to a report by ENTSO-E. But the eclipse perfectly highlights the need to guarantee power supply as the UK and Europe evolve towards a greener energy mix.

March 2015 solar eclipse path

Credit: Oliver Fuhrer, oliver.fuhrer@meteoswiss.ch, MeteoSwiss
(Please note, this is an astronomical calculation of the solar coverage, not a meteorological simulation)

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