Solar eclipse and US energy production

So I’m pretty interested in solar energy, and I hadn’t even considered the impact of the solar eclipse on the US grid. My main question is whether or not our battery tech will ever reach the point where we can fill the gap caused by something like an eclipse, or clouds, or a non-windy day at a wind farm. So what do you think?

The Economist | Watch with care|e


Or night even. The sun disappears for half the planet for hours.

No special glasses needed to see that.


To solve the energy problem will take a lot.

One of the main things is to get rid of the silly notions of countries, so the end of nationalism. The planet is bathed at any one point with enough energy 173PW to exceed total energy across sources of 155TW, so a tiny % of the earth receives enough to power the planet, the sun is shining somewhere all the time so it’s enough, we just have to move energy around, to do that needs a planetary grid and the small human brain notion of a country is the major barrier.


What mankind is currently doing in its own limited mind:

The next is distribution. Energy is lost at distance. To make a normal-temperature superconductor would help.

Another approach is a space-born mirror to reflect so to a place in earth’s shadow to bring solar energy into night.

I would say this is too technologically advanced for our level of development (we can’t even get rid of countries so space is even harder).

Given the sun’s energy is going to be difficult to move long enough distances it can get from 1/3rd around the planet where the sun is shining to where it is not, will need some localized storage.

So then we get to all the energy storage needs. These are the ones I’m thinking:

  • insulation, better buildings, so you can smooth out heat gained in daytime with insulation to slow the cooling loss so you need less energy for heating at night. In effect, storing heat energy inside houses.

  • insulation, better refrigerators, the opposite problem, keeping the cold of night from getting into your stored chilled/frozen foods.
  • gravity. Pump water uphill during daytime, let it release at night. There are plenty of places with lots of rain and water storage.

  • electrical energy storage (your point) locally inside cars, inside homes, inside our phones, etc.

  • Fuel cells. Use solar to split water into O2 and H and store the H and then use a catalyst to then make electricity from the H. Or you can burn the H recombine with the O2 (released into the air and then absorbed again) which takes water in and gives water out. What is preventing this is safety, storage of H in an inert substrate, but I think this will be solved before a big space mirror.

My own bet:

  • fuel cell is doable in our lifetime
  • gravity energy storage is doable in our lifetime
  • better house construction is doable in our lifetime
  • space mirror probably >50-100 years off. We need to get rid of all the -isms first.
  • superconductors at scale, >50-100 years off. To make it reliable on a large scale I think is going to be the biggest challenge

I do not think the use of lithium and other rare earth metals is scalable to the problem, the reason (to come full circle to my first point) is that “-isms” are a function in equality. Wealth for all of our species history has been strongly related to energy consumption, so to remove inequality requires equal wealth, requires everyone consuming (even a poor African subsistance farmer) to have more energy each to a similar to a rich American with a truck) that will require total energy consumption to go up, the environment cannot allow total energy consumption to go using fossil fuels, it has to move to a planetary energy grid system and those silly lines we draw in our mind on a rotating rock bathed with enough energy is the limiting factor.


Energy generation is affected by clouds on a daily basis…don’t see why we have to do a calculation based on the solar eclipse.

I was surprised when so many people at school were wondering this same thing…

Between the seasons, say where the eclipse hit landfall in Madras, Oregon, the hours of daylight alters by 6.75hrs through a year.

The spinning earth, and its tilt, and weather, all dwarf the variation from just a moon passing over.

With global warming which will make unihabitable the tropical regions, and the weather will get more extreme and folks having to move more to the polls where the daylight varies more, we have to basically solve the energy transmission problem primarily as energy demands are simply too high to just use energy storage.

Does anyone have experiences of their eclipse viewing they’d like to share.

Personally, I was stationed in the path of totality. Unfortunately, the stubborn cloud cover did not allow for any viewing of the nearly 2.5 minute total solar ellipse where I was. :weary: It did get very dark, though! I saw a star and enjoyed the 360 degree sunset.

In case anyone was wondering what it looked like, here’s what Reed Timmer shared on Facebook of it.

Me: San Francisco maximum as the summer fog thinned, 10.17am PDT.


San Francisco

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Hence the main question - can we store enough energy to mitigate the interruptions in renewables?

@nigelhealy has some good suggestions. I appreciate the urge to obliterate the nation-state, especially form the point of view of energy grids. I hadn’t considered that every rise in wealth corresponds to a rise in energy consumption. Taken globally, we certainly have enough energy to cover our needs at any given time.

I have friends in the industry that are currently required to create equal capacity in conventional energy output for every renewable they put in to solve exactly this problem. It’s a little frustrating to know that they have to match conventional capacity for every renewable. It’s like taking one step forward and one step back. I am hopeful that storage will get to the point that they won’t have this requirement for renewables. Of what we could do now, I do like the hydrogravity storage idea, but why do we have to use water? Seems we could make use of that in some other way…especially if we erase the lines in our heads.

As for the eclipse, I couldn’t get a good photo of it directly, but I did get a good eclipse shadow shot:

Using gravity and water is just an example, moving non-water, like concrete is another. You can also store is as pressurized air, use older expired gas / oil fields, older mines.

In the datacenter business you can also inertia - spinning up a heavy wheel which then you attach to generate energy, more for short term energy whilst the gasoline generator gets started.

Of all the technology which is possible, I feel probably use of splitting water via electrolysis and then recombining it in a fuel cell is the most likely to scale and be reliable, but if we invest in all of these, whatever is best will reveal itself.

Thinking at in effect giving infinite free energy to every human makes me think we have to work within what the Universe is giving us and it gives us Hydrogen mostly.

And on the Earth’s crust we have a high proportion of Silicon, so likely photovoltaics (based heavily on silicon) to make energy to then split H2O to then store Hydrogen which then is released and releases water, is my view of how we scale.

Of course eventually we get to nuclear fusion but I see that as probably too expensive given the Sun gives is more than energy for free.