Solar Farms Come to Shocking Realization, Wildfire Smoke Appears During Peak Hours


Goals for solar energy production to meet the demands of the power grid went up in smoke last week as Canadian wildfires filled American skies with haze.

New England solar farms produced as much as 56 percent less electricity than in the previous week during peak demand times, according to Bloomberg.

Solar generation in a wider region, reaching from Illinois to North Carolina and served by PJM Interconnection LLC, also showed an impact, with production down 25 percent from the previous week.

Without offering specifics, a news release from ISO New England said, “Smoke from wildfires in Canada has traveled to New England, significantly lowering production from solar resources in the region.”

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A report from Reuters said that the dip in power production was enough that the share of power produced by solar energy sources dropped to 4 percent last week from 5 percent in the weeks leading up to last week.

Coupled with a drop in wind power, which hit 5 percent of total power produced, power produced by gas rose to 45 percent of all that was produced, up from 40 percent in prior weeks.

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Reuters noted that with more natural gas being burned, less is stored for the high-use winter months, leading to a price increase for gas of about 9 percent.

Wildfires have been burning in Canada, sending smoke across parts of the United States that led to a deep red haze in New York City and massive flight cancellations.

“At a simple level, the smoke is inhibiting the solar power from hitting the panels and generating electricity,” said Matt Kakley, a spokesperson for ISO New England, which manages New England’s power grid, according to WBUR-FM.

Kakley said when homeowners and businesses, the prime solar producers in the region, can’t get power, they use the grid for their power needs, causing a demand spike.

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“When we forecast demand on the system, we’re looking at historical data. And the challenge with something like this is that there’s just simply not the historical data that you would have to to look back on,” he said.

The ISO news release noted that because the smoke lowered temperatures on what might have been warm days, there was a demand reduction that helped offset the loss in power production.

Research has shown that wildfires can dim the allure of solar power.

A report from the National Center for Atmospheric Research, released in December, said that smoke from California’s September 2020 wildfires led to a reduction in solar production of between 10 percent and 30 percent during peak hours, according to a news release posted on the group’s website.

“The key takeaway from this research is that wildfire smoke can have a substantial and negative impact on solar energy production in areas near major wildfires,” NCAR scientist and lead author Timothy Juliano said. “This is something that utilities should keep in mind when wildfires occur.”

This article appeared originally on The Western Journal.

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