Drop in solar power generation at college due to smoky skies

Smoky skies caused by fires south of the border impacts solar power arrays.

Smoky skies caused by fires south of the border are affecting much more than visibility, breathing and appreciation of the region’s scenery: one of the impacts many people may not think about is on solar power arrays.

An example is Okanagan College’s photovoltaic solar array at its Penticton campus.

Data shows that on Aug. 22 — the last clear day before the smoke settled in the valley — the photovoltaic solar array on the Jim Pattison Centre of Excellence produced 1,336 kilowatt-hours of energy. The next day, with smoke obstructing the view of the mountains, production dropped to 621 kWh, a reduction of about 54 per cent from the previous day.

Aug. 24 was a bit better with production of 628 kWh. The following day, slightly clearer skies allowed the panels to produce 810 kWh.

The 258 kW electrical solar photovoltaic array system on top of the LEED Platinum certified Jim Pattison Centre of Excellence is among the largest in the province. By comparison, the array at the Kelowna campus is rated at 194kW.

A similar drop in power generation was recorded at the Kelowna Okanagan college campus, where power production dropped 58 per cent, from 1,103 kWh to just 462 kWh when the smoke moved in.

Donna Lomas, regional dean at Okanagan College Penticton, said it wasn’t much different from a cloudy day in the winter.

“It didn’t affect our operation. We are still tied to the (electricity grid),” Lomas said. The impact of the lower power days will come at the end of the year, she explained, when they reconcile the power generated in the LEED Platinum certified Centre of Excellence versus what they had to use from the grid.

“The goal is to make that zero. If you have a lot of smoke, it makes getting to that zero harder,” she said. “It’s a period when we are expecting to generate a lot of power, which we can then borrow back from in the winter.”

However, considering the number of clear days earlier in the summer, Lomas is hoping that might help balance the loss of power from the smoky days.

Other systems, like the passive air conditioning in the building and light tubes that draw in outside light, continued to function as normal.

“They (the light tubes) are still letting in a lot of natural light, but there is no doubt the smoky days made it harder to use natural lighting as your principle source,” said Lomas. “It was a week of unexpected interruptions.”