University researchers measure the sun during the eclipse to assess impact on solar arrays

Engineering and imaging science team take to the roof to conduct tests on solar spectral irradiance

Engineering, imaging science, and photography faculty and students took advantage of the total solar eclipse to gather data about the effects of the sun’s energy during a total eclipse to assess impact on solar arrays. Front row, left to right: Paul Anzelone and Christian Rockwell. Back row, left to right: Professor Santosh Kurinec, Professor Emmett Ientilucci, students Crystal Qu, Logan Kusher, Paul Jacob, Gavin Anderberg, and Rushi Jani.

The recent total solar eclipse over Rochester provided a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity on Earth for two faculty-researchers and their students to capture data about the effects of the sun’s energy during a total eclipse.

Santosh Kurinec, Emmett Ientilucci, and seven engineering, imaging science, and photography students experienced this phenomenon, meeting over three afternoons in the Digital Imaging and Remote Sensing’s Northrange Laboratory, located on the roof of the Chester F. Carlson Center for Imaging Science building. They collected several days-worth of solar spectral irradiance measurements before, during and after the eclipse. Gathering this data and detailing the impact of decreased solar power, is a way to help inform power grid operators who prepare energy redistribution plans.

“People say this is common sense, power will go down. We still depend more and more on these alternative systems and how can we continue to manage them well,” said Santosh Kurinec, professor in the Department of Electrical and Microelectronic Engineering, part of RIT’s Kate Gleason College of Engineering. “It is important information because there are other astral phenomena that could impact this power source. Solar power is weather dependent.”

Kurinec, an expert in photovoltaics and solar cell technologies, conducted a similar study in 2017 during the partial eclipse. The 2024 eclipse provided an opportunity to do new work and a comparative study.

Working with Ientilucci, the two faculty members gathered significant data sets to assess spectral solar distribution and significant changes at different points of the eclipse motion. Using a down-welling spectrometer coupled with time-lapse photography from digital cameras, Ientilucci will be able to assess which of the wavelengths was more affected than others.

“This is a rare opportunity as we are continually curious about the solar spectrum during such an event. We can only see a small portion of the spectrum, but the instruments we are using today can pretty much capture the entire solar spectrum. We want to see which wavelengths are affected more than the others,” said Ientilucci, Gerald W. Harris Endowed Professor in the Chester F. Carlson Center for Imaging Science in RIT’s College of Science.

Solar power, a growing energy resource in the U.S. and around the world, is dependent on the sun and weather conditions. The sun’s energy is a rich resource, dispersed over different wavelengths—infrared, visible, and ultraviolet—with variances in strength and capacity at each of the wavelengths. Energy output is impacted by the source, temperature, and weather conditions, for example. When sourced for the energy grids in the U.S., for example, reserves need to be available should there be decreases in available energy.

During an eclipse, temperatures drop on the average between 10 and 25 percent; the speed of this drop in power, the length of time without power, and the reserves necessary to compensate are all the responsibility of grid operators. Temperature and energy decreases impact areas of the country dependent on electrical resources for heating or cooling. During the 2017 partial eclipse, New York state lost nearly 75 percent of its solar power generation. A similar amount was expected to be lost during this eclipse, and the researcher’s data points will be available to confirm this likelihood.

“There have been models and plans for alternatives made since the eclipse was anticipated,” said Kurinec, who referred to a national report prepared by different regulatory agencies across the country, including New York and California. “They use information from previous eclipse experiences and other phenomena to build a series of models to adapt and redistribute loads to limit impact to usage. We believe our information will be used similarly.”


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