Does wildfire smoke impact solar panel production? It’s a question on the minds of many people back east, where large wildfire blazes are impacting air quality in the north eastern United States. A recent Bloomberg article [subscription or free sign-up required] states that, “Solar farms powering New England were producing 56% less energy at times of peak demand compared with the week before,” due to the extreme smoke in the region from multiple wildfires in Canada.
California has clear skies this spring, but each fall season brings the increased threat of wildfires. In the case of a fire, safety is the priority, so this story focuses on solar panels far from the danger of the fire, yet impacted by the smoke in the sky.
The extreme conditions in the east don’t precisely line up with a study from heavy smoke in California. Research findings from wildfire smoke’s impact on solar panels in California in 2022 shows better news for solar panel efficiency under smokey skies. The story on eos.org compares 2019 and 2020 – a ‘clear’ vs a ‘smokey’ year. Particles in smoke diffuse sunlight, but overall the same amount of sunlight hits the earth’s surface whether through smoky skies or clear skies. The EOS story reports that the loss of sunlight from smoke might be as little as 2%. The article does point out, however, that during the heavy smoke in California in September of 2020, solar panel production was down approximately 20%.
SHOULD I CLEAN MY SOLAR PANELS?
Homeowners and business owners with solar should also consider solar panel production after the skies have cleared and the smoke is gone. If the panels were close to the fire, or there were winds, the solar panels could have ash deposits on them. Most solar systems don’t need frequent cleaning. But in cases where particulate matter can settle on the panels, and rain is not expected in the near future, it can be financially advantageous to clean the panels and get them back up to full productivity.
Our service department offers panel cleaning as a stand-alone service and also as a regular service as part of our extended warranty plans. The great news is that these extended solar warranties are available for solar systems installed by any solar company, whether that company is still around or has gone out of business. The only requirements for HES Solar to warranty the systems is that it must be in our service territory in Southern California, and it must have been permitted when installed.
So if you’re seeing big headlines about the massive wildfires on the east coast impacting solar panel production, please keep in perspective that the effect on solar production is likely less than you think (or are reading about) and is temporary. It is good to be aware that ash that settles on your solar panels can create a lingering drop in productivity, but that is easily resolved by a good rain or a professional solar panel cleaning.
HOW TO CLEAN YOUR SOLAR PANELS DIY-STYLE
If you are a do-it-yourself type you can clean your own solar panels. The best, fastest, and safest technique is to simply hose off the ash if it is thick on your panels. Even if there hasn’t been ash in the skies, this is a good practice if your panels receive a lot of dust or pollen.
If you do choose to clean your own panels, do this early in the morning when the panels have not been heated by the sun. It is not recommended to homeowners to try to scrub or squeegee the panels without solar panel cleaning equipment and experience. Definitely do not use a power washer on your solar array. It’s also much safer (and quicker) to hose panels from the ground to create a rainfall effect. Ladder and roof injuries are a serious concern, and most DIY panel cleaning does not warrant taking the risk of going up on your roof.
Keep it simple: spray from the ground to rinse off large particles, and do it when the panels are not hot.
HOME BATTERY BACK-UP
On the topic of wildfires, power outages in California are a big side effect of fires. A home battery is a great way to keep your home energized when the grid is down. We have a reliable energy grid in California, but we do have power outages. The grid can go down due to an actual fire, for fire prevention during high winds, from grid overload, or from grid damage or maintenance. A home battery will keep a home energized and switch a home solar system into an “island state.” This allows the solar panels to power the home or charge the battery independent of the electric utility.
If you’re concerned about your panels needing a cleaning, or want to learn more about energy storage benefits, please contact us and we’ll be happy to discuss your system and answer all of your questions.