Impact of Wildfires on Solar Resource Availability in California in a Changing Climate

Chin-An Lin, Vikram Ravi, Mengmeng Cai, Manajit Sengupta, Yimin Zhang, Cheng-Hsuan Lu

Research output: NRELPresentation


Wildfires can emit large amounts of atmospheric particulate matters and influence not only air quality but also availability of photovoltaic (PV) generation due to scattering and absorption of solar radiation. Under anthropogenic changing climate, wildfire activity is projected to increase over western North America due to drier and warmer climate, implying increasing impact on solar resource and larger uncertainty in solar generation especially in regions with faster PV penetration. This study focuses on quantifying the impact of wildfires on aerosol optical depth (AOD) and thus solar resource over California using National Solar Radiation Database (NSRDB), developed by the National Renewable Energy Laboratory (NREL). This assessment includes historical analysis and estimation of solar resource under wildfire scenarios (2020 wildfire and an enhanced wildfire scenario based on 2020 wildfires). Historical analysis for the period of July-October 2019/2020 (low/high fire activity period) shows that the averaged global horizontal irradiance (GHI) and direct normal irradiance (DNI) are reduced by about 30 and 90 W m-2 (5.6 and 15.3%), respectively, during high fire activity period. To create AOD dataset for enhanced fire scenario, 165% increase in burn area (in around 2050) is selected based on comprehensive literature review, which is further applied to the Fire INventory from NCAR (FINN) fire emission. WRF-Chem model with the enhanced FINN emissions is used to simulate and represent a preserving spatial distribution of burned areas and wildfire-emitted aerosols. Our initial analysis suggests that the"enhanced 2020 wildfire" AOD can increase by a factor of 1.3 - 2, which can significantly reduce solar irradiance and increase uncertainty in generation and reliability of power system in extreme wildfire events under a high solar penetration scenario. Overall, this study provides an estimate of the impacts of wildfires on solar resource to make informed decisions on reserve planning, generation scheduling, and reliability investments.
Original languageAmerican English
Number of pages22
StatePublished - 2023

Publication series

NamePresented at the 103rd American Meteorological Society Annual Meeting, 8-12 January 2023, Denver, Colorado

NREL Publication Number

  • NREL/PR-6A20-84873


  • aerosol optical depth
  • anthropogenic climate change
  • solar energy
  • wildfire


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