California grid survives solar eclipse, as Australia prepares for 2028

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California’s solar-centric grid manages eclipse without a hitch. In Australia, preparations already being made for 2028 eclipse.

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solar photovolaic pic.The California energy system – as expected – survived the stunning solar eclipse that traversed the US on Monday, but Australian grid operators are already thinking about how they will manage a similar major eclipse that will cross the Australian continent in just over a decade’s time.

While most Americans were looking to the sky to watch the eclipse, or to the NASA tracking tool, dozens of engineers at the California Independent System Operator (CAISO) were staring at screens in their operations centre in Sacramento, making sure the power stayed on.

The focus was on California because, even though it was not in the path of the total eclipse, it was deemed the most vulnerable, or at least the most interesting, due to its significant share of solar, with 10,000MW of utility-scale solar and another 5,600MW of distributed solar.

Solar can account for up to 40 per cent of demand at any one time.

Screen Shot 2017-08-22 at 12.57.36 PM
Source: CAISO

The state was expecting its solar output to drop by one-half or more as the moon started to move across the sun from around 9am, which is pretty much what it did. “Things went really, really well,” Eric Schmitt, vice president of operations at the CAISO, told the Washington Post.

“If there’s any doubt about how planning pays off, we demonstrated it this morning,” Schmitt told the San Francisco Chronicle. “We didn’t have any major challenges on the system, even minor challenges. We’re very pleased with how smoothly it went.”

The graph above shows the output of solar over the 24 hour period, while the graph below shows demand and net demand, which excludes variable sources such as solar and wind.

megawatt graph 2
Source: CAISO

The fact that both the German and California grids survived the eclipse without interruption should come as little surprise, given the grid operators knew the exact time of the event well in advance, and could prepare by ensuring stand-by capacity was available, such as pumped hydro and gas-fired generators, and various demand management initiatives were also in place.

The biggest challenge for these grid operators right now is dealing with peak demand in summer, and unexpected outages and system faults. In Australia, the market operator, AEMO, is facing a tough challenge this summer, with the greatest risk coming from failing fossil fuel plants that melt in the heat.

In the peak of the summer heat wave in California in June, 6,400MW of gas capacity was offline due to heat related issues – similar events occurred in Australia last summer, and are seen as the biggest risk factor for the coming summer or two.

The installation of the Tesla big battery, demand management programs in South Australia, Victoria and NSW, and the temporary diesel gen-sets in S.A. are designed to help address that.

temp graph.
Source: Timeanddate.com

Australia’s big day will come on July 22, 2028, when a total eclipse will draw a path from the north-west of WA across the Northern Territory, down through NSW and across Sydney.

Like the US event last night, the path of the total eclipse will be relatively narrow, but impacts of 50 per cent or more will be felt across the continent. The eclipse will begin around 9am in the north-west corner, and will arrive around midday in the eastern capitals, lasting till after 3pm.

And by then, Australia will have significantly more solar than it does now. The amount of rooftop solar may have trebled, given current installation rates, and the amount of large-scale solar will have risen at least 10-fold, possibly more depending on the course of state and federal policies.

In some states, such as South Australia and Western Australia, the amount of rooftop solar capacity, alone, may be the equivalent of minimum demand, and by that time more utility-scale solar will be installed. Depending on the weather that day, there could be significant swings in ramp rates.

California was preparing for ramp rates of twice the normal experience, from its average 29MW a minute to double that and a peak of 98MW a minute.

In the future, when California reaches its 50 per cent renewable energy target by 2030, and its 100 per cent target by 2050, those ramp rates will be even more impressive. Storage, demand management, smart controls, and back-up will play a critical role.

The eclipse “is another in a long list of examples that show that system operators are able to integrate the current level of renewables on the grid without sacrificing reliability,” David M. Hart, a professor and director of the Center for Science, Technology, and Innovation Policy at George Mason University, told the Washington Post.

Eclipses in Chile in 2019 and 2020, and another in the US in 2024, when solar capacity may have doubled, should provide some more information and experience in how to manage the events.

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6 Comments
  1. john 1 year ago

    Because an Eclipse is a totally predictable event known years ahead the management is not difficult, what is difficult is at 1 hour past midday in summer a whole heap of Gas Fired plants go off line because they can not cope with the heat.
    Mind if enough Pumped Hydro and CST were put in place it would not matter.
    Conclusion put in distributed Solar, Wind, Pumped Hydro and CST so regardless of the situation the broader network will always be able to cope.
    The sooner this happens the better for the consumers who in the end pay for the delivered power.

    • Joe 1 year ago

      Isn’t this always how a RE Grid is planned to work ie not relying on just 1 or 2 sources of RE but having a mix of all available RE sources. But this is how the FF Boosters Club work by always trotting out the line that the Sun doesn’t always shine or the Wind doesn’t always blow to demonise RE. The RE Grid is now coming as we see with SA’s big battery, the new Solar Thermal and pumped hydro providing the storage for wind and solar. Bring on some bio gas and maybe those hot rocks and things are looking grand indeed.

      • Caffined 1 year ago

        Hmm ?
        ……some pretty extreme events being considered there .
        What about something more realistic, like another super storm (you know it coming, global warming etc,), major Cyclone etc, that takes out key parts of the grid, (again) , wipes out a few wind farms, flattens some of the PV farms, solar roof panels redistributed, and those huge solar collectors…..i would not want to be near a 250m tall solar tower either in one of those events !
        Some might say its just a matter of time before that kind of event.
        We citizens might be pissed, but we can just get the candles out, and light the wood stove/barbie, and get on with our life, but it wont be so easy for businesses, utilities, railways, airports, etc etc…anyone who depends on a continuous grid supply.
        You can string the wires back up in a few days/weeks, but rebuilding wind or solar farms takes abit longer.

  2. Mark Roest 1 year ago

    My first thought for 7-22-28 is, if it’s not raining, that’s a perfect day for a national picnic or camp-out! Everyone can have their solar protection glasses, binoculars and telescopes, and all look in awe at the universe around us together!
    Along with that, set all the automatic demand response systems to minimize electricity use, and all the vehicle-to-grid capabilities to be on standby, as needed.
    Meanwhile, gas plants going off-line because they melt in the heat is no longer an issue, because as Australia put in six hours of battery storage (at just $100/kWh) for the entire grid, almost all owned by families and businesses, between 2020 and 2026, they were all phased out.
    There was, by 2026, enough solar and wind energy, most of it well-distributed and located in smart microgrids, to power the entire nation 24/7/365, when buffered by the battery storage, demand response, and energy management systems — and energy efficiency and battery electric vehicles had slashed total national energy demand by more than two-thirds! (More BEVs were on the way, as the diesel and petrol fleet from 2017 was converted to batteries and wheel motors over 10 to 12 years.)
    All the coal plants were also decommissioned, and were or are in the process of being recycled. In some cases, buildings in gas and coal plants are re-purposed, but the main activity is restoring their sites to the natural world, and cleaning up all the spills, everywhere on our planet, from 200+ years of use.

    • Thucydides 1 year ago

      Don’t want to be a wet blanket but you forgot to mention the events of 2023. In addition to the hundreds of thousands of direct casualties, soot from the detonation of 20 nuclear devices in the Asia-Pacific still blankets the Earth and the consequent climate effects have caused famines and worldwide economic depression. In 2028 electricity generation has fallen below its level before the war but is adequate to satisfy the greatly reduced demand.

      • Mark Roest 1 year ago

        With a name like that, I see where you’re coming from!
        However, if there was a nuclear war, it would be worse than worldwide depression, and if we think through the ways we now know of avoiding war and apply them, we can probably dodge the bullet.
        One way I can see is to let people know that if we cooperate, we can not only solve the energy problem, but navigate our collective way through the disruptions of food, water, and safety that are already headed our way because of climate disruption. Having a will, and finding a way, in that direction, can also help bring peace to the world, as most of us really want peace, and we won’t be nearly as desperate.

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