By Guy Page
Quebec wildfire smoke has significantly lowered New England solar power input, according to ISO-New England (ISO-NE), the region’s transmission grid operator.
ISO-NE doesn’t say just how much the fires have dropped output for solar power. However, Bloomberg via the GatewayPundit.com shows a graph based on ISO-NE data depicting about 50% solar power loss on heavy smoke dates and times from June 3-8.
Solar power accounts for about three percent of New England power transmission. But most solar resources in New England aren’t considered transmission. Instead, they “run the meter backward” for homeowners, reducing demand on the regional grid when they are producing electricity. Decreased production from these resources has the effect of increasing demand on other power sources not reliant on sunlight.
Natural gas picked up the slack for the lost solar power, increasing New England output by about 10% on some days in June.
However, the smoke also has cooled early summer temperatures, leading to reduced demand for air conditioning, ISO-NE said June 8.
These two factors—decreased production from solar resources and decreased consumer demand due to lower temperatures—has made forecasting demand for grid electricity challenging.
In forecasting real-time and future demand for electricity, ISO New England relies on historical data from similar days, adjusting for changing system conditions. Because these smoky conditions are unprecedented in the region, there is little, if any, historical information to rely on, creating further complications in generating accurate forecasts.
Power drop not limited to New England – The whole Northeast is losing solar output due to the Quebec fires. Also, California’s 2020 wildfires received extensive news coverage, but relatively little about the dramatic decrease in solar power caused by wildfire smoke.
PJM, the transmission company serving Pennsylvania, New Jersey and Maryland, also reported significant solar power reductions during the first week of June. It attributed the problem to the Quebec forest fires:
“When there is thicker cloud cover or, in this case, a reduction in visibility from smoke during daylight hours, light from the sun is obscured or blocked. With less irradiance, solar production is reduced compared with periods of full sun and unlimited visibility,” a company expert explained JUne 13 on PJM Inside Lines, a company news outlet.
A 2021 Solaranywhere.com report revealed that California wildfires dampened output of the Golden State’s vaunted solar power industry:
“A recent study in the California Independent System Operator (CAISO) region found that solar-powered generation during the first two weeks of September 2020—a time when California was heavily impacted by wildfire smoke—was down 13.4% from the year prior despite an increase in total system capacity.
“When North American wildfires peaked in September 2020, aerosols visibly dimmed sunlight across much of the region. In fact, total sunlight (GHI) for the month was diminished by a staggering 20% in some locations.”
The Quebec wildfires also caused power shortages for a totally different reason: smoke and fire damage to transformers. On Thursday, June 1 a quarter-million Hydor-Quebec customers, including 100,000 in Montreal, were left in the dark for a couple of hours.