Solar companies embrace the upcoming eclipse

Published August 2, 2017

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While there have been concerns about grid intermittency during August’s eclipse, solar contractors don’t seem concerned, and some are even using it to their advantage.

Using eclipse to spread the word about solar

Nashville-based LightWave Solar is not concerned about the solar eclipse adversely affecting its customers’ energy output on the path of totality of the August solar eclipse.

“It’s not going to be that big of a hit financially,” said Grace Robertson, LightWave Solar’s marketing manager. “Most of our customers are grid-tied, and they don’t really care if they miss out on two minutes. I think most people are just excited that they can see it here in Nashville, and are excited to get their hands on glasses.”

In fact, the company is using the eclipse as a marketing opportunity. Robertson said LightWave was contacted to sponsor multiple eclipse events in Nashville that were geared toward tourists but decided to focus its effort on an event for the local community.

They’ve sponsored a community event called LOVE & UNITY UNDER ONE SUN/Solar Eclipse Celebrationthat’s free to the public. Those who register in advance get a free pair of NASA-approved eclipse viewing glasses with LightWave’s logo on the side.

The event is a partnership among LightWave Solar, Tennessee Activist Coalition, Nashville Peace & Justice, New Earth Matters TN, Worldwide Music Ventures and other community organizations. The event will feature some local performing artists and progressive speakers.

The event’s purpose is to “put a focus on the sun and the power it holds,” Robertson said. “It’ll be a great thing to watch, but then also it puts the focus on the free, clean energy that can be harnessed.”

LightWave will have a booth at the event with activities for kids. One of those will be a solar demonstration where a solar panel powers a fish-shaped water fountain. Participants can shade the panel and see the water slow down, showing them the power of the sun.

Robertson said it’s important to teach kids about solar power for a number of reasons.

“The eclipse event is a natural stepping stone to solar energy education, especially for kids,” Robertson said. “It’s a chance to talk about the sun’s power and the abundance of sunlight as an energy source. Kids have a lot to gain from getting more of our electricity from sunlight—less air pollution that causes asthma, less carbon emissions to help slow climate change and more green jobs in our economy.”

Enjoying a day of celebration

Other companies are celebrating the eclipse too. United Renewable Energy of Alpharetta, Georgia, will host a company picnic at the 1.3-MW Ambers Wolfpit solar farm near Toccoa, Georgia. The company constructed the plant in 2016.

“One of our partners who we built an array for, this one happens to be right square in the middle of the path,” said William Silva, CEO.

Employees are encouraged to bring their families to celebrate.

“It’s just a chance to sit back and relax while the sun’s not shining for two minutes,” Silva said.

Dispelling worries of impacts

SWT Energy of Lincoln, Nebraska, isn’t worried about the impacts of the eclipse, even though it has projects on the path of totality.

Eric Moyer, SWT’s director of sales and marketing, said the company’s projects in the eclipse’s path are not large enough to be significantly affected. He said he may be more concerned if his company had larger solar plants—maybe 80 MW or larger.

“We might idle the plant that day or something along those lines, and take those prudent cautionary measures,” he said.  “But as it is right now, one of our bigger installations is 300 kW in size. Their voltage draw, their consumption, just isn’t that high, so we don’t anticipate any major issues there.”

Other customers in the eclipse’s path are grid-tied and relatively small in size, so SWT is not anticipating any major disruption. The eclipse will have a similar effect as a cloudy day.

The company has been busy writing proposals and bringing in new business, so it’s not pursuing outbound marketing at the moment, during the solar eclipse or otherwise. Instead, Moyer plans to enjoy the eclipse with his family.

“For me, it’s just exciting because it only happens so rarely that we have a front-row seat for a total eclipse,” Moyer said. “I also have a son and a daughter that are blown away by astronomy and think it’s just the coolest thing ever, and they’ve been looking forward to this for over a year.”

The grid won’t be affected since Nebraska is ranked 48th in the country for solar capacity by SEIA. But Moyer actually wishes the eclipse would have an impact on the state’s solar, because that would mean there’s lots of solar power feeding into the grid.

“I wish I had more for you, like that we were going to be ramping up flow batteries to account for it, or that we had a bunch of Powerwalls or something already lined up or brought in specifically to cover outages during this time, but it’s all pretty minor and small,” Moyer said. “Maybe when adoption rates get better, we’ll have more to talk about.”

Three tips for watching the eclipse

If you plan to stare at the sun, make sure you do it safely. NASA has approved viewing glasses made by four United States companies: American Paper Optics, Rainbow Symphony, Thousand Oaks Optical and TSE 17.

Watch for other phenomena during the eclipse as the moon covers the sun and then moves away from it again. Different lighting effects known as shadow bands, Bailey’s beads and the diamond ring occur at different contact times, classified as C1 through C4.

For the longest eclipse experience, find the center of the path of totality. Some cities on the path are Idaho Falls, Idaho; Lincoln, Nebraska; Paducah, Kentucky, and Columbia, South Carolina.