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How a total solar eclipse can cause more than one blackout

August 10, 2017

By Abby Karp

Social media is abuzz with talk about the upcoming solar eclipse - the first solar eclipse to go coast-to-coast across America in 99 years.

While eclipse chasers and nature aficionados alike will flock to Oregon, Kentucky, North Carolina and other states directly in the eclipse path of totality to see this rare cosmic event, those state governments are issuing pleas to businesses who rely on solar energy for all or part of their building’s power. If energy consumption isn’t correctly managed, those states will have to depend on fossil fuels to make up for the lack of electricity output.

Plan for a blackout on August 21, 2017.

In addition to dark skies, a total solar eclipse will cause a noticeable reduction of solar power production for the 3 hours surrounding the midday eclipse. If organizations and homeowners who rely on solar energy don’t reduce their energy consumption, the state will have to use fossil fuels to produce electricity.

This issue is most notable in California, as the state leads the country in solar power generation. While the state isn’t directly in the path of totality—only 8 states are— it is one of 26 states that will experience 80-90% totality. That’s a massive hit on the country’s solar power generation grid. California’s power grid alone is expected to see a loss of 4,194 megawatts of large-scale solar electricity production, per Energy Manager Today.

The San Francisco Chronicle reports that there’s no danger of a power failure during the eclipse, but that hasn’t stopped the California Public Utilities Commission from creating a website (CalEclipse.org) urging state residents to conserve energy during the eclipse. Energy Manager Today also points out the troubles facing North Carolina, which is near California in terms of solar energy dependency. For North Carolina, the eclipse will have an effect almost exactly like shutting off three nuclear reactors at the same time.

Energy departments across the country have plans in place to mitigate the eclipse’s effects, but what about businesses? Office buildings consume two-thirds of the world’s electricity, making it especially pertinent for building managers in states across the eclipse path to prepare for a day of energy conservation.

What can you do?

How can building managers do their part to reduce energy usage, especially if they know a large portion of their building’s energy comes from solar?

The answer lies in people. While it may not be possible to reduce the baseload of a building, plug loads, lighting, and HVAC account for more than half of a building's energy use. Building occupants should be encouraged to unplug or reduce the use of electronics and equipment when possible, turn off lights, and use passive heating and cooling instead of HVAC systems.

Gonzaga University has seen amazing success from their efforts to engage campus members in sustainability efforts. Learn about how they did it.

If everyone takes part in this effort to reduce energy usage on August 21, the U.S. electrical grid, overall power supply, and environment will be hugely grateful. And it doesn’t take a lot of work to figure out how to cut energy usage fairly quickly.

To learn how to engage building occupants in energy reduction initiatives, sign up for our free webinar on competition engagement tactics within your company.

Abby Karp

Abby joined Lucid’s marketing team in 2014 after conducting research on the decision-making processes of environmental behavior. Abby graduated from Middlebury College with a degree in Environmental Studies and Conservation Psychology.