As both solar power and wildfires increase in the west, the latter is having an impact on the former, finds a new report from environmental measurement firm Vaisala. What’s more is that the two reach both their peaks at the same time. As solar systems are producing the most power in the summer because of increased irradiance, it’s also the height of the wildfire season, which can bring production of solar plants down.
Fire can directly impact the ability of a solar farm to produce electricity by harming the solar panels and its components and can pose a safety hazard. It can also impose another risk to a solar farm’s production as smoke and smog produced by a fire can reduce the amount of power the solar panels can produce. The reduced output of the solar power plants can also increase the length of payback period, forcing investors to wait longer to see a return on investment.
"Irradiance fluctuations are typically linked almost exclusively to changing weather patterns, and the effects of other seasonal environmental conditions such as wildfires aren't always considered when it comes to financial modeling and forecasting" said Gwendalyn Bender, Vaisala product manager. "However, faced with the significant financial impact of performance fluctuations caused by regular wildfires, it's clear that solar asset owners and operators in commonly affected areas need to start factoring this regional risk into their plans—particularly since these incidents typically coincide with the peak generation season.”
This year more than 180,000 acres of California have burned in wildfires and some fires continue to rage. "The West Coast wildfires are a further illustration of the importance of gaining a long-term historical record at a project location that captures these kinds of events using satellite technology. Understanding these extreme events, weather or otherwise, is critical for creating a climate resilient portfolio, which helps smooth portfolio revenues by countering the impact of variability with projects that are geographically and technologically diverse,” Bender asserted.
The company’s report produced solar performance maps for California in June, July and August 2016. They showed large areas of lower than expected solar farm performance in certain regions, which directly correlated with the sites of major wildfires. For instance, the Cedar Fire in Kern County, CA covered close to 30,000 acres. The county 4,881 megawatts of installed solar power. Because of the wildfire its average irradiance fell by between 1 percent and 4 percent in different parts of the county in June. Vaisala estimated that a 1 percent loss of solar power production in Kern County during that period would equate to over $940,000 in lost revenues based on a price of $150 per megawatt hour. It added that project operators in Los Angeles and San Bernardino counties were both likely to see significant losses in revenue, as well.Tweet