The Total Solar Eclipse May Do More Than Just Darken Europe's Skies


A total solar eclipse--the biggest in Europe since 1999--will darken skies over parts of the continent at 9:45 a.m. UT (5:45 a.m. Eastern Time) on Friday, March 20.

The eclipse is expected to block a whopping 98 percent of the sun's light in northern Scotland, The Telegraph reported. As for London, it's expected to see an 85-percent reduction in sunlight.

A total solar eclipse occurs when the moon passes between the Earth and the sun, casting a shadow on Earth as it blots out sunlight. Since this eclipse will block so much sunlight, Britain's solar power industry is worried that it could cause power interruptions.

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This animated GIF, released by NASA, shows where the shadow will be created by the March 20 total solar eclipse.

Transmission system operators have spent months preparing for the eclipse, according to the Brussels, Belgium-based European Network of Transmission System Operators for Electricity. Plans call for control rooms across the continent to coordinate a response in case of any problems.

"Within 30 minutes the solar power production would decrease from 17.5 gigawatts to 6.2GW and then increase again up to 24.6GW. This means that within 30 minutes the system will have to adapt to a load change of -10GW to +15GW," Patrick Graichen, executive director of the Berlin-based renewable energy think-thank Agora Energiewende, told the Financial Times.

Essentially, the eclipse is being seen as a sort of “stress test” of the power system. But John Meyer, an analyst at London-based mining and energy broker SP Angel, told CNBC that there is no need to worry.

"You could equally worry about volcanic ash clouds and dust storms," he said in an email. "Solar farms are almost always combined with power from other sources to improve reliability. As a result, we don't see the event of an eclipse lasting long enough [to] make much of a difference."

Industry concerns aside, many Europeans are looking forward to getting a glimpse of the eclipse. If you're planning a look-see, a note of caution: eye protection is essential when viewing a solar eclipse.

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