State of the Planet

News from the Columbia Climate School

Could April’s Eclipse Impact the Power Grid? Our Energy Expert Says Not To Worry

On April 8, a total solar eclipse will be visible across parts of North America, following a narrow track from Mexico through the U.S. and all the way to Canada.

While many eclipse chasers and casual observers are excited for this rare phenomenon, there have also been concerns about how the eclipse might impact areas that rely on solar power along the way.

In Texas, for example, there will be regions briefly blanketed in complete darkness, causing predictions of a temporary dip in solar power while the eclipse crosses the state. But the Electric Reliability Council of Texas, the organization that manages 90% of the state’s electric grid, announced it has been proactively modeling what a reduction in solar power will look like during the eclipse—“similar to a sunset and sunrise in the middle of the day”—and does not foresee any disruptions in service.

Other experts, including Melissa Lott, professor of professional practice at the Columbia Climate School, have also been working to assuage the public’s fears.

All energy technology, including solar power, comes with tradeoffs, Lott said in an interview with USA Today. However, she does not expect major problems during the upcoming solar eclipse.

A map of the U.S. with the path of the April 8 total eclipse depicted
The paths of the Moon’s shadow across the U.S. during the April 2024 total solar eclipse. Source: NASA’s Scientific Visualization Studio – Beth Anthony, Public domain, via Wikimedia Commons

Lott told USA Today she’s been receiving a flurry of questions from concerned friends and family members who depend on solar power, and that she’s told them not to worry. There won’t be much of a difference even for those who live directly in the narrow path of totality—from Texas to Maine within the U.S.—because other power sources, including natural gas and hydropower, will pick up the slack during any short-term loss of solar power, she said.

The course, timing and duration of an eclipse are all predictable, unlike a natural disaster or other weather emergency. With an eclipse, “we know the path it’s going to take. We have really good information to predict how long it’s going to last,” said Lott; this means utility companies know what to expect and can compensate.

It’s also easy to look back at the most recent example, only seven years ago. During the 2017 total solar eclipse, there were no major issues for the power system in North America. “What was predicted versus what happened was pretty dead-on,” said Lott, which should quell any lingering uncertainty.

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