SPLTRAK Abstract Submission
Impact of the 2019-2020 Australian Black Summer Wildfires on Photovoltaic Energy Production
Ethan Ford1, Bram Hoex1, Ian Marius Peters2
1UNSW, Sydney, Australia
/2Forschungszentrum Jülich GmbH, Jülich, Germany

Air pollution produced by the Australian Black Summer wildfires of 2019-20 caused extreme haze events across the state of New South Wales (NSW). Consisting predominantly of fine aerosol particulate matter less than 2.5 μm in diameter (PM2.5), wildfire smoke attenuates solar irradiance and leads to soiling via the deposition of particles on the solar modules’ surfaces. This reduction in sunlight decreases the electric energy yield of photovoltaic (PV) systems and thus revenue for PV system owners and investors. This work analyzed 30-minute resolution energy data from 160 residential PV systems in NSW over a 71-day period from 6 November 2019 to 15 January 2020. A percentile data analysis technique was adapted to derive a mean state-wide reduction rate for PV energy generation with PM2.5 concentration. The analysis improves upon existing work by adjusting PM2.5 point concentrations to account for deviations in atmospheric optical path length (airmass). The mean power reduction rate for NSW was found to be approximately -12.5% ± 2.2% per 100 μg/m3 of PM2.5 for airmass 1.0. From this reduction rate, the energy loss for NSW residential PV systems was estimated as 39.8 ± 7.9 GWh for the 71-day wildfire season. Considering mean electricity prices, this equated to a worst-case financial impact of 9.27 ± 1.85 million AUD. The energy loss for a single PV system on a clear sky day with wildfire smoke was 16.8% ± 2.9% for a mean PM2.5 concentration of 111.4 μg/m3, with a maximum relative loss of 42.4% in the early morning. This work aims to help inform planning of the location, size and energy storage options of new PV systems; and raise awareness of the impact of wildfires and air pollution on solar PV energy generation and the resulting implications for electricity network operation.