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Total Eclipse of the Heart - 'Ring of Fire' Eclipse to Stress Power Grids from California to Texas

The uncertainties around solar power are well understood. When the sun doesn’t shine as much as expected, power grids that rely heavily on solar must turn elsewhere to meet consumer demand. And while a shortfall in solar generation can be tricky to navigate, the difference between actual and forecast levels is typically only a few percentage points, and power grids are usually ready and able to make up any difference. But what happens when the daytime sun is obscured for hours at a time? Much of the U.S. is about to find out. In today’s RBN blog, we’ll preview the path of the October 14 solar eclipse, detail its expected impact on the generation of electricity, and describe what steps are being taken to keep power grids performing as usual.

Types of Solar Eclipses

Figure 1. Types of Solar Eclipses. Source: American Astronomical Society

Before we get too far into any discussions about the eclipse’s impact on solar generation and the power grid, let’s get some basic definitions out of the way. A solar eclipse occurs when the moon passes between the sun and the Earth, casting a shadow on the Earth that either fully or partially blocks the sun’s light in some areas. During an annular solar eclipse (far right in Figure 1 above), like the one coming shortly, the moon is not big enough to cover the entire sun. This happens when the moon is farthest away from the Earth. The sun’s outer edge remains visible and forms a “ring of fire” in the sky, although most of the sunlight will be blocked in the eclipse’s path. During a total solar eclipse (far left), the moon completely covers the sun. This takes place when the moon’s orbit is closest to the Earth. A total solar eclipse is only visible if you are in the path where the moon casts its darkest shadow. A partial solar eclipse (middle) occurs when the moon obscures a portion of the sun. (There is also a hybrid solar eclipse, which occurs when the same eclipse changes from annular to total — or the reverse — along its path. It’s the rarest type of eclipse.)

Path of October 2023 and April 2024 Solar Eclipses  

Figure 2. Path of October 2023 and April 2024 Solar Eclipses. Source: RBN

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