As the Moon traversed the face of the sun on Monday and Austin residents trained their heads toward the spectacular phenomenon, the partial eclipse did not darken skies across Texas — but it had a very real effect on solar power.
Nowhere in West Texas saw a total eclipse, but Austin Energy saw a brief but significant decrease in power generation from the solar fields it contracts with to provide solar power.
According to Austin Energy, solar power generation dipped 68 percent below the peak normal on Monday. Between 12:40 p.m. and 1 p.m., the amount of energy being produced by solar panels was 127 megawatts, far below the 400 megawatt average.
“We can see the same kind of production drops during the passing of clouds, but the drops don’t last as long,” Austin Energy spokesman Robert Cullick said.
Initial data gathered by Austin Energy’s market operations desk found that in total, solar generation came up about 705 megawatt-hours short because of the eclipse. (An average residential customer with Austin Energy uses about 1 megawatt-hour each year).
Texas’ electrical grid never faltered. The amount of power that dropped off was relatively small and had no impact on operations, Austin Energy officials said, noting the city utility also produces power though wind farms, fossil-fuel plants and a nuclear plant.
The eclipse had very little impact on how much the utility spent buying energy on Monday. But it did provide some valuable insights to Austin Energy, which buys power from a 1.2 million solar panel facility and a 700,000 solar panel facility in Pecos County, and has contracts with two more West Texas solar fields set to open within next year or so.
“In general, plants with more than a million panels in Texas are new and we’re growing in our understanding of how they operate in different kinds of weather and meteorological conditions,” Cullick said. “We’re pioneers when it comes to Texas solar. These kinds of events give us a better idea of what to expect as the grid grows more solar-dependent.”