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US company observes solar power output declines in the Northeast due to Canadian wildfire smoke


Impacts seen in New York, New England, PJM

40% reduction in New England solar output

  • Author
  • Jared Anderson
  • Editor
  • Valarie Jackson
  • Commodity
  • Electric Power Energy Transition

Weather desk experts with Maxar, a US-based technology and intelligence company, determined that solar power generation in the US Northeast was recently reduced to less than 10% of production that would be expected if the Canadian wildfire smoke had not been present.

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Smoke from wildfires in Canada moved south into the US during the week of June 5, significantly reducing visibility and air quality. Maxar used publicly available Brookhaven National Laboratory data and their industry experience to demonstrate how wildfire smoke disrupted solar power generation in the region, according to a June 9 email from a Maxar spokesperson.

Brookhaven National Laboratory, a multidisciplinary laboratory primarily funded by the Office of Science of the US Department of Energy and located on Long Island, New York, measures solar irradiance, or how much sunshine hits the Earth's surface, and releases that data publicly, according to Maxar.

"Solar irradiance increases as more sunshine hits the surface of the Earth, and these measurements correlate to how much solar energy can be produced at solar farms," the spokesperson said.

Maxar monitors and models solar energy production in six New England states using data from ISO New England, with Maxar experts comparing a recent clear sky day, May 31, to June 6, one of the recent smoke-filled sky days, the company said.

"The comparison shows the smoke caused about a 40% reduction in solar energy generation," the spokesperson said.

Additionally, in power markets run by PJM Interconnection, New York Independent System Operator and ISO-NE, "we were seeing [smoke impacts] for some of the readings for sure," Travis Hartman, director of weather at Maxar Technologies, said in a June 9 interview.

New York impact

A solar radiation sensor in Queens, New York, on a clear day normally measures around 1,000 watts/per meter squared, Hartman said, but on the afternoon of June 7, the sensor read only 44 watts/m2.

These kinds of solar power output interruptions will increasingly affect the state's power markets as renewable energy penetration grows to help meet a mandated target of emissions-free power by 2040.

The NYISO estimated that behind-the-meter solar production reached a record 2,328 MW during the noon hour of March 22, 2022. In January, NYISO completed studies for 27 new wind, solar, storage, and transmission expansion projects totaling nearly 7,500 MW of clean energy capacity that can proceed toward commercial operations, according to a recent NYISO report.

The grid operator forecasts that maximum hourly BTM solar power generation will increase from 3,258 MW ac to 9,424 MW in 2053, and including utility-scale solar, NYISO forecasts the state will have 13,400 MW dc of cumulative solar power capacity in 2053.

At those levels of penetration, reductions to solar power output, like those recently observed from the wildfire smoke, would have a much larger impact on the power market, particularly in periods of high power demand.