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Energy | Environment | OPB's Coverage Of The Oregon Solar Eclipse 2017

Eclipse Not A Problem For NW Solar Power Distribution


Power companies monitored just how much solar power they lost during Monday’s sky-darkening eclipse.

Power companies monitored just how much solar power they lost during Monday’s sky-darkening eclipse.

SupportPDX, Flickr Creative Commons

While hundreds of thousands of Northwest residents were looking up, power companies were monitoring just how much solar power they lost during Monday’s sky-darkening eclipse.

Managing the power grid is kind of a balancing act. If you need to turn on a light, that power needs to be available.

So when the moon briefly blocked the sun, that could have been a problem for power companies.

But in the Northwest, it wasn’t too much of a concern. In part, that’s because the region’s plentiful hydropower was available to make up for the momentary reduction in electricity generated by solar arrays.

Another reason the eclipse was a minor event for the region’s power grid: it just doesn’t have that much solar energy yet. In Oregon, there is 104 megawatts of installed solar capacity; Washington has about 18 megawatts, according to Renewable Northwest, a renewable power advocacy group.

Plus, the eclipse was something companies could plan for, said Ry Schwark, a spokesman for Pacific Power.

“One of the great things about an eclipse is you actually know exactly when your power is going to go down and when it’s going to go back up again,” Schwark said. There won’t be another total eclipse over Washington or Oregon this century.

But more common disruptions for solar energy – in the form of storms and wildfire smoke — will happen. And they are less predictable. That’s something the region’s solar energy operations will need to contend with on a bigger scale, given that several utility-scale solar projects are in the works in Washington and Oregon.

According to the Northwest Power and Conservation Council’s Seventh Power Plan, the best opportunity for solar development is in the inter-mountain basins in south-central and southeastern Oregon.

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