For a lot of people in the region, August 21’s solar eclipse marks a once-in-a-lifetime celestial event. But if you own solar panels, it means a day of less-than-ideal energy production.
Bloomberg News estimates 9,000 megawatts of solar production will go down when the sun is obscured by the moon — the equivalent of nine nuclear reactors. A lot of that is in California, which sources about 40 percent of its power from the sun. The eclipse has prompted a campaign asking Californians to reduce their energy usage on August 21, to account for the increased load on the state’s other power sources.
But in Kentucky and neighboring states, solar has a much smaller chunk of the electric portfolio. So despite being in or near the path of totality — where the entire sun will be hidden by the moon — the region’s power grid won’t take as much of a hit.
The Tennessee Valley Authority sources about 400 megawatts of electricity from solar panels in its service territory. Spokesman Scott Brooks says the agency is counting on lower-than-expected output from those solar facilities for several hours during the eclipse.
“There will be diminished output for solar panels over a several hour period, and then of course when there’s the path of total darkness, you’ll have zero output for that short amount of time,” he said.
But in TVA’s case, solar energy only makes up about 1.25 percent of the overall 32,000 megawatt generating capacity. That, coupled with the fact that TVA has had years to plan for this afternoon of darkness means there’s plenty of other sources of generation (mostly nuclear, coal and natural gas) to make up the difference.
“For TVA, it’s not going to have any impact on our power grid because it’s just one of many sources of power for the TVA power grid,” Brooks said.
Brooks said the TVA’s public lands — like Kentucky Dam — will be open on August 21 for eclipse viewing.
And considering a total solar eclipse is pretty rare — the next one visible from the United States won’t be until 2024, and then again in 2045 — it’ll be a few more years before utility companies face another potential blackout of solar facilities.