Office of Nuclear Energy

Total Solar Eclipse: A Reminder of the Importance of Nuclear Energy

August 21, 2017

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For most of us, the total solar eclipse today is a once or twice in a lifetime event. A 70-mile wide shadow of the moon will race across the United States at more than 1,000 miles an hour, completely blocking out the sun in certain locations for up two and a half minutes! Here in the Office of Nuclear Energy, we are ready and waiting with our solar eclipse glasses. For those responsible for providing electrical power, the event today represents an interesting test of the resilience of our electrical grid. 

While solar power is increasingly providing key contributions to our Nation’s clean energy mix, the eclipse is a reminder of the importance of clean and reliable nuclear energy. The partial blockage of the sun will significantly impact solar power generation throughout the United States well beyond the path of the 70-mile wide shadow. During the eclipse, the country will abruptly lose and then regain about 9 MW of solar power generation. Some efforts to address this disruption included requests to reduce electricity use. For example, although California will experience only a partial eclipse, the California Public Utilities Commission asked customers to reduce electricity use from 9 a.m. until 11 a.m. hoping to decrease electricity use statewide by 3,500 megawatts. However, across the country, the majority of the shortfall in solar power generation is planned to be made up by a quick response of natural gas units. Natural gas can swiftly fill the gap, but will also generate greenhouse gas emissions. As we contemplate the importance of a diverse and resilient energy mix, it is important to remember that approximately 20 percent of our Nation’s electricity and 60 percent of its clean energy comes from nuclear energy, which supplies reliable, emissions-free electricity around the clock.

Our nation’s energy security requires us to recognize that interruptions, whether natural or manmade, are possible and overreliance on a single source of electricity is not a robust energy policy. Happily, our power generation resources have become more diverse throughout the years and nuclear power continues to work together with other energy sources to ensure we always have access to clean, efficient electricity. Nuclear energy is one more thing to celebrate today, so from all us here at the Office of Nuclear Energy, happy #EclipseDay!