European power grids keep lights on through solar eclipse

Fri Mar 20, 2015 4:53pm EDT
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By Vera Eckert

FRANKFURT (Reuters) - Electrical grids in Europe succeeded in managing the unprecedented disruption to solar power from Friday's 2-1/2-hour eclipse that brought sudden, massive drops in supply.

Germany, Europe's leading economy and boasting the world's biggest solar-powered installations, was at the heart of the event.

Of 89 gigawatt (GW) of installed European solar capacity, it has 38.2 GW, which in theory is enough to meet half of its maximum demand.

The initial 15 GW drop in Germany was less than operators had feared. They were able to draw on alternative power sources including coal, gas, biogas, nuclear and hydroelectric energy pumped from storage and were helped by demand reductions from industry including four aluminum plants.

"Good preparations paid off, we were able to handle all swings in production," said Ulrike Hoerchens, spokeswoman for one of the four high-voltage grid firms, TenneT, which operates in the region with the highest share of photovoltaic units.

Solar power output has expanded sharply to 38.2 gigawatts (GW) since the region's last notable eclipse in 2003, so the country - which borders nine nations - needed to prove its power market and network handling centers could function under extraordinary conditions.

German solar output right before the eclipse totaled 21.7 GW, then dropped to a low point of 6.2 GW, followed by an addition of 15 GW again within the following hour, TenneT said.

The speed of feed-in was treble the normal maximum, which could have caused disruptions.   Continued...

Pupils of the Deutschherren school and their teachers use protective glasses to watch a partial solar eclipse in Frankfurt, Germany, March 20, 2015.  REUTERS/Kai Pfaffenbach