US Solar Power Production Down Because Of Canadian Wildfires

Since the beginning of June 2023, massive wildfires have been burning in Canada, with currently 416 active fires in the country. Over 200 of the wildfires are considered “out of control,” according to the Canadian Interagency Forest Fire Center.

The thick smoke from the wildfires has blanketed the northeast U.S. in a smoggy orange haze leading to toxic air quality. The smoke has also lowered solar power production by over 50% in the U.S.

Solar farms creating power in New England generated 56% less power during times of maximum demand than in previous weeks.

ISO New England, the region’s energy grid operator, said, “In recent days, smoke from wildfires in Canada has traveled to New England, significantly lowering production from solar resources in the region compared to what ISO New England would expect absent the smoke.”

“The smoke has also lowered actual temperatures in New England compared to what weather models are forecasting,” the statement read. “This leads to lower demand on the regional grid, as there is less need for things like air conditioning.”

“These two factors — decreased production from solar resources and decreased consumer demand due to lower temperatures — has made forecasting demand for grid electricity challenging,” ISO New England concluded.

ISO New England spokesperson Matt Kakley told Bloomberg that the situation is “really unprecedented,” adding, “We don’t have a lot of historical data to look back on. There is some learning in real-time.”

The reduced solar production did not result in power outages because solar power is not a leading source of electricity in the area.

Solar power is responsible for approximately 3% of New England’s electricity, compared to 52% from natural gas and 26% from nuclear.

Several states in the U.S. have also experienced a reduction in solar power production because of the wildfires smoke from Canada.

PJM Interconnection LLC, which provides electricity to 13 states from Illinois to North Carolina, pointed out that there was approximately a 25% decline in solar energy production compared to the prior week.

PJM Interconnection spokesperson Dan Lockwood said, “Smoky conditions throughout the RTO this week have caused a reduction in visibility, reducing solar, and keeping temperatures several degrees lower than usual.”

New York’s energy grid operator, New York ISO, stated that smoke from the wildfires caused a decline of over 1,400 megawatts in peak solar energy production.

Previous wildfires have caused reduced solar power production in Australia. Solar Analytics, a solar monitoring company, found that rooftop photovoltaic systems in Sydney and Canberra experienced a drop in solar power output “by 15 – 45% on heavy smoke haze days.”