Solar Eclipse Threatens EU Power Supplies Reliant on Renewables

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Power traders across Europe are preparing for a partial solar eclipse after a similar event six years ago caused sharp swings in electricity prices and prompted blackout warnings from grid managers.

An eclipse across the northern part of Canada, Greenland and Russia is set to cast a shadow across most of Europe between 10:10 a.m. and 1:45pm Berlin time on Thursday, the peak time for solar output. The event is expected to reduce sun-powered generation by as much as 23%, according to the European grid managers association Entsoe.

“We are on full alert,” Bo Palmgren, chief operating officer at MFT Energy A/S, a power and gas trader, said by phone. “A lot of preparation has been made to ensure that we are ready, but it still remains to be seen what will happen and we look forward to see how the market will react.”

The phenomena highlights the variable flows of electricity coming from renewables such as solar and wind that Europe is increasingly reliant upon. When the moon blocked about 80% of the sun’s light in March 2015, one grid manager warned against using elevators and ski-lifts during the event due to the risk of a blackout, according to Jenny Chase, a solar industry analyst at Bloomberg NEF.

Solar Eclipse Threatens EU Power Supplies Reliant on Renewables

Thursday’s partial blockage will be less disruptive and more like a standard cloudy day, Chase said.

Since the eclipse in 2015, Europe has added almost 60% more solar capacity to a total of 138 gigawatts. On the brightest days, solar panels provide more than 40% of the power for Germany, Europe’s biggest economy.

System operators and energy traders have been preparing ahead of Thursday’s event, Entsoe said. In 2015, networks added generating capacity to balance the grid against the solar fluctuations, including keeping hydropower and fossil fuel-fired plants on standby. Prices for electricity in wholesale markets both surged and dipped during that eclipse.

MFT expects Thursday’s event to take away about 2 gigawatts of Germany’s solar generation at its peak tomorrow. Output is otherwise expected to reach as high as 28 gigawatts by 2 p.m. on Thursday.

The next solar eclipse will take place on Oct. 25, 2022, Entsoe said.

©2021 Bloomberg L.P.

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