Sandia to study effects of wildfire smoke on the reliability of solar power

March 4, 2024 9:17 am Published by

Sandia National Laboratories’ Photovoltaics program recently won a Small Innovative Projects in Solar (SIPS) award to study the effects of smoke exposure on PV power plants. The award, which focuses on innovative, early-stage ideas that can produce significant results within the first year and lay the foundation for continued research, has supported more than 100 projects since 2015, and is funded by the U.S. Department of Energy’s Solar Energy Technologies Office.

“The impact of wildfire smoke on PV generation is well documented,” says project PI Laurie Burnham, “but the long-term impact of smoke exposure on a PV system is not. SIPS gives us the opportunity to study the interactions between a PV system and swirling plumes of electrically conductive and caustic particulates.”

Sandia’s photovoltaic SIPS project will be the first rigorous study of the circulation, density, and composition of smoke within a PV power plant and the resulting data will inform mitigation strategies to minimize damage to PV plants.

Sandia researchers will distribute air-quality sensors at PV plants in high-risk areas to measure particulate concentrations and look for deterioration of front-glass coatings and backsheets, issues with tracking sensors/motors, and infiltration into inverters and poorly sealed connectors.

According to the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, “rising temperatures, declining snowpack and frequent droughts are all leading to a dramatic surge in wildfire frequency and severity across the western United States.”

“This study will allow us to address proactively an important dimension of our nation’s transition to a solar-dominant energy economy, namely the robustness of PV power plants in an era of intensifying wildfires,” Burnham said.

Applications for the Fiscal Year 2024 SIPS: Concentrating Solar-Thermal Power and Photovoltaics are  due March 6, 2024, at 5 p.m. ET.

Read more about the SIPS program.

Learn more about Sandia’s Photovoltaics program.


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