Wildfire smoke is hindering energy production through solar panels

Wildfire smoke is hindering energy production through solar panels

September 21, 2020 1 By Alicia Moore

The massive fires across California and Oregon have been placing a blanket over the sunlight.

Wildfire smoke from the fires in California and Oregon have been blanketing the skies, causing a spectrum of problems, which includes reducing the energy production possible through solar panels.

The output of solar power installations in the region has fallen significantly under the smoky skies.

At the end of last week, the California Independent System Operator’s statewide solar generation data was recording that it was nearly one third below the levels that were being reported throughout the average of the rest of the summer before the wildfire smoke became an issue. Offshore winds have driven the smoke right over where the solar panel installations are concentrated.

“We are seeing reductions to behind-the-meter and large-scale solar throughout the state,” said Anne Gonzales, California ISO spokesperson.

The plummeting solar generation required the grid operator to start drawing from out of state sources. This included pulling from long power line connections between northern California and its neighbors, where the blazes are also devastating. Furthermore, it has required the state to turn to its natural gas generators. This has made it more challenging for the state to keep up with its clean energy goals while still remaining electrified.

The wildfire smoke impact has left many to wonder if climate change will be harmful to solar.

“With the wildfires that are burning in California and the Pacific Northwest, it’s very clear that with the smoke that’s in the air, there is a reduction in the amount of light,” that will reach the photovoltaic panels, said Electric Power Research Institute project manager for solar generation, Michael Bolen.

Moreover, Bolen also pointed out that the color of the sky caused by the smokiness is also having an impact. The orange color that has been going viral on social media is leading to additional struggles. “That [color] is because of the way the solar spectrum changes at it passes through the particulates in the air,” he explained. “That also affects how much PV [solar photovoltaic] modules can produce.”

The wildfire smoke is greatly a result of a chain of fires called the August Complex. That chain was Wildfire smoke - forest fire and smokesparked on August 17 by lightning strikes that occurred between Eureka and Sacramento, California.

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