California Wildfires Decrease Solar Energy Production


California’s wildfire season has started on an unprecedented note, which has caused an orange glow to settle across the state. This glow, as well as ash buildup, decreased solar output in September by 30% of that in July. As a result, this wildfire season has shown that climate change will decrease the effectiveness of solar energy in the future.

Orange Glow And Ash Buildup Decreases Solar Energy In California

Wildfires have always been a part of the Californian terrain, but this year’s wildfire season has been notably more severe than in the past. This has caused particulate matter from the smoke and ash to cloud the sky, casting an orange glow over certain parts of the state.

The Energy Information Administration and the California Independent System Operator released data that showed the orange glow and general ash buildup has caused a decrease in the solar output from July to August and September.

According to the data, solar production by CAISO, a producer of the majority of large-scale solar in the state, dropped by about 13% from previous years. This decrease is alarming, especially considering that California added 659 megawatts of large-scale solar capacity during that same time.

More so, the production dropped by 30% from July of this year to September. Normally, September has less production than July, but a decrease of this size is unprecedented in comparison to year’s past.

In addition to the decreases in solar energy production, the air conditions in California have become alarmingly hazardous as well, due to the smoke. According to the California Air Resources Board, California has had a PM2.5 pollution rating, which is a dangerous amount of airborne particulate matter.

Explanation For The Solar Energy Decrease

The particulate matter in the air is to blame for the decrease in solar production. Since there are more particles in the air, the sun is not able to shine as brightly as before. As a result, there is less sunlight for the solar panels to convert into usable electricity.

More so, the particulate matter is building up on actual solar panels. This decreases the amount of sunlight conversion even more. Although large-scale solar systems are likely to be cleaned off, many residential panels are unlikely to be cleaned until the next heavy rain, which is not predicted to be anytime soon.

What Makes This Wildfire Season Different?

Over the last several years, wildfire seasons in California have progressively gotten worse and worse due to climate change. Climate change increases temperatures and decreases water in the atmosphere, which then exacerbates wildfire seasons.

Due to the effects of climate change, this year especially has been difficult for the inhabitants of California, who have been forced to evacuate their homes. It is currently early in the wildfire season, yet 3.7 million acres have already burned, according to the California Department of Forestry and Fire Protection.

To put this in perspective, that is more land than the entire state of Connecticut combined. And the more frightening fact is that the California wildfire season has not even entered into its most intense period yet, leaving one to wonder how much worse the fires are to be in the month to come.

How This Affects The Future

California’s experience has shown yet again that climate change poses a severe risk for solar energy. In fact, the Massachusetts Institute of Technology suggested last year that warmer temperatures would decrease solar output, which has been supported this year.

At the moment, climate-fueled wildfires will only impact solar production to a minimal amount. In fact, this energy decrease is really only comparable to the decrease seen on a cloudy day or during monsoon season in California.

As more buildings and residential areas become more reliant on solar energy, though, energy can become increasingly unreliable during certain elemental factors, such as wildfire season. This may then make solar energy a risk associated with solar panel installation.

Final Thoughts

This wildfire season sparks a critical discussion about how climate change will affect solar energy in the future. As climate change progresses, wildfire seasons in the future are more likely to be as dangerous and deadly as this year’s season due to higher temperatures and less rain. For the time being, however, solar energy is one of our best sources and tools for combatting climate change, even during wildfire season. As a result, we should continue pressing forward in solar energy use and innovation so we can help make a better world for the future.  


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