On August 21 areas of North America will experience daytime darkness as the sun is eclipsed by the moon. It’s a highly anticipated solar event, the likes of which North America hasn’t experienced since 1918. In order to learn about how the eclipse will affect the solar power industry, we reached out to Dr. Audrey Lee, VP of Grid Services at Sunrun.
During her career, Dr. Lee has worked to develop regulatory structures that promote energy innovation with the US Department of Energy, California Public Utilities Commission, and Massachusetts Department of Energy Resources. Prior to joining Sunrun, she served as vice president of Analytics and Design with Advanced Microgrid Solutions. We’re honored to share her solar industry insights here.
Distributed Energy (DE): How will the solar eclipse affect solar energy production?
Audrey Lee (AL): Sunrun and government officials across the country have fully prepared for this great event, with California being one of the only states where meaningful planning action was required. Energy customers across the country should not expect any disruption in service.
The entire duration of the eclipse will only last two to three hours depending on one’s location. This is a relatively short period and should not impact monthly production totals for solar customers in any meaningful way.
Customers can rest assured that the electric system operators have planned far in advance to help manage electricity production for the entire system. We should take this opportunity to go outside and witness this exciting scientific phenomenon.
DE: Do you plan to watch it?
AL: Yes! Sunrun offices across the country will all be taking a break, powering down, and viewing the eclipse with NASA-approved viewing glasses. Sunrun is headquartered in San Francisco. We’ll be watching from downtown and hoping the fog takes a break that day so that we can all enjoy!
DE: How will large-scale solar PV systems be affected? Will customers lose power?
AL: We currently provide residential solar and storage services to more than 134,000 families across the country. We are confident grid planners have taken all appropriate steps to account for the relatively small loss of energy while the moon blocks the sun.
DE: What preventative measures are in place to guarantee power continuity?
AL: In our home state of California, for example, a California Independent System Operator (CAISO) report noted that more than 5,600 MW of solar energy will be lost during peak time. However, the drop in solar energy during the eclipse will be mitigated by a combination of hydropower and optimization of existing natural gas resources. With leadership from California Public Utilities Commission (CPUC) President Michael Picker and the CPUC, CAISO has gathered 200 MW of reserves in case of any potential deficit, while additional demand response programs and energy-efficiency efforts will contribute as an added safety net.
For the rest of the country, solar energy is a smaller share of total electricity generation. The eclipse will be too short to materially boost demand for other energy sources and electricity needs should be met without issue, according to entities who help manage power.
We are encouraging all energy customers to be good energy citizens and find ways to reduce power consumption during the eclipse. We are also mobilizing our customers to encourage their neighbors (solar and non-solar alike) to minimize energy usage as well in order to help ensure there are no interruptions in service.Electric grids are evolving rapidly, disrupted by regulatory changes, distributed generation, renewable portfolio standards, and evolving technology. Energy storage is uniquely positioned at the heart of all of this change. Download Greensmith Energy's White Paper to learn more about improving economics and demystifying energy storage systems.
DE: Do you think that the lost MWs caused by the solar eclipse may raise awareness of the importance of energy storage?
AL: All eyes are on the solar eclipse. This event presents an ideal opportunity to not only celebrate the sun’s power but also spark a dialogue on the reliability of the sun as a resource and spread awareness on how we can best harness its power.
The sun is one of the most reliable and predictable energy sources in the world. Just think about it, at any given place on earth the sun on average takes a break once every 300 to 400 years, and we know about it well in advance. In contrast, our aging fossil fuel plants are riddled with unexpected outages and our nuclear plants are being abandoned after years of delays and billions of dollars wasted. We build clean power assets in as little as one day, on budget, and capable of generating low-cost power within hours.
It is truly amazing what we can do with technology and the sun. The focus on the solar eclipse highlights just how bright the future will be as we continue to embrace solar energy and batteries. As more energy storage solutions come online, we will be able to provide clean, reliable energy during planned and unplanned outages without issue or use of dirty fossil fuels.
DE: What new configurations or technologies are making it easier to couple solar and energy storage?
AL: Sunrun solar homeowners produce power right where it’s consumed. Now Sunrun also offers home batteries with our Sunrun BrightBox product so that our customers can prepare for outages and disruptions in service from utilities. More than 2,000 customers have already signed up for home batteries with Sunrun.
The consumer-driven megatrend is moving toward local, dynamic energy infrastructure that can more effectively meet customer demand and manage grid outages. Think of our power generation-transmission-distribution grid like a 100-lane highway that is only full a few times a year. Rooftop solar paired with home batteries means that we can stop building so much unnecessary, costly infrastructure, and become more nimble and efficient.
DE: What’s the future of solar technology?
AL: Energy in the US is already becoming more locally distributed, with consumers producing and storing their power through solar plus storage. Consumers are demanding better alternatives to outdated, polluting power plants that are going to cost Americans billions of dollars in upgrades over the next few years.
Since Sunrun began in 2007, it has remained committed to creating a planet run by the sun. We continue to encourage states to promote and embrace policies that enable more rooftop solar and home batteries. These advances will lead to cleaner energy and greater flexibility on the grid. With more access to consumer-centric technologies, like solar and battery storage, homeowners can easily move from consumers to “prosumers.”