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Power sector's response to solar eclipse highlights need for flexible resources

As intermittent energy resources grow, the United States electric grid will need to become more flexible and resilient.

The United States power grid didn't blink as the sun slipped behind the moon for a brief time this week. The much-heralded eclipse did have a significant impact on solar energy--utilities saw several gigawatts of clean energy vanish for a few minutes — but with ample preparation, customers saw no impact.

Is that a big deal? Maybe not — yet.

Because of cloudy weather, and changes to customer behavior related to the eclipse, the impact was muted. California had expected utility-scale solar output to drop 4,200 MW during the event, but saw a drop-off of only 3,400 MW. PJM Interconnection experienced a net decrease in demand of about 5,000 MW throughout the eclipse, for a variety of factors. Utilities were prepared, but ultimately the United States just isn't that reliant on renewable power — yet.

Last year, the country got almost two-thirds of its electricity from fossil fuels, and 20% from nuclear energy. Renewables, of which solar is a tiny portion, made up 15%.

On the other hand, that mix is expected to change in the near future. Ganesh Bell, Chief Digital Officer of GE Power, discussed the eclipse and the power grid's response with Utility Dive.

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