By Mike Augustyniak

MINNEAPOLIS (WCCO) — Renewable energy sources, like wind and solar, now account for 22 percent of the power Minnesotans consume. It’s a growing industry, but it’s also a new industry that comes with some unusual questions.

Like what will happen to our power during next month’s solar eclipse?

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Believe it or not, Minnesota “…is a very sunny place. You wouldn’t think so, but we’re ranked 12th in the nation” for solar energy potential according to MnSEIA communications director Liz Lucente.

It’s easy to throw shade at our northern climate but — with 3,500 jobs and a half-billion dollar contribution to the state’s economy — it turns out solar energy is big business in Minnesota.

“In the first quarter of 2017 alone, we have beat the entire 2016 capacity” for power solar generation, Lucente says.

Some of that power comes from solar energy systems designed and installed by Sundial Solar in Edina, MN.  Jon Kramer, CEO of Sundial Solar, said the upcoming solar eclipse is not something he’s worried about.

“Here we’re not going to see that much of an impact because we’re not in the path of the total eclipse… it’s going to be like it was a cloudy day.”

States that produce more solar power, and where more of the sun will be covered, will feel a bigger impact.

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California, for example, will need to make up a solar power deficit big enough to run a large city for about 90 minutes.

While the national power grid is all interconnected, independent grid operators and utilities have been planning for this for awhile, and will be meeting the need in other ways, including “peaking” power plants used to meet short-term spikes in energy demand.

“We still have base-load generation by fossil fuels, such as natural gas and coal, and they will be on standby,” said Kramer.

Still, this eclipse does shine a light on the challenge with renewable energy – what Kramer calls “the intermittency of the resource.” On cloudy days, he says, “we’re going to lose that power; but, now we have the ability to incorporate battery storage.”

Ramsey-based Connexus Energy is moving ahead with a pilot program to build one of the biggest battery-storage systems in the Midwest… soaking up the sun when it’s there, and doling it out when it’s not.

Kramer sees an inevitability of renewable power taking over the market, and that excites him.

“It is happening; the batteries and the renewables are going to marry together, and they are going to be the cheapest source of power we’ve ever seen.”

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The August 21st, 2017 solar eclipse will begin in our area around 1 p.m. local time, and about 80 percent of the sun will be blocked out during the peak of the eclipse.  To see what the eclipse will look like in your community, click here.

Mike Augustyniak