Wildfire Smoke Impacts on U.S. Solar Energy Resources and Agrivoltaic Systems

Funding Years: 2022-2024

Climate change necessitates a rapid transition to renewable energy resources, and as such, the U.S. is aiming to increase its solar energy generation from the current 3% of total energy production to 45% by 2050. Bridging this gap will require identifying locations suitable for solar development, which will likely include novel deployment configurations such as agrivoltaics (i.e., the co-location of agricultural and solar energy production). At the same time that the U.S. is seeking to expand solar energy, wildfire smoke is predicted to increase across the U.S. Smoke reduces the available solar radiation at the surface, and previous case studies document smoke-driven reductions in solar energy generation. This GCRT will conduct the first longitudinal study of wildfire smoke impacts on utility-scale photovoltaic (PV) output across the contiguous U.S. The spatial and temporal extent of this project allows for generalizable insights that account for variations in smoke plume characteristics, PV plant design, and meteorological conditions. Moreover, this project will be the first to isolate the economic and social impacts of surface-level wildfire smoke on solar resource potential through 2100. Finally, the project extends current agrivoltaic research by estimating the impact of wildfire smoke on the feasibility of agrivoltaic configurations. The results of this interdisciplinary project will help decision makers and utilities develop robust electricity grids while addressing climate goals. Associate Professor Emily Fischer and Ph.D. candidate Kimberley Corwin from the Department of Atmospheric Sciences will collaborate on this project.

Co-Principle Investigators

  • Jesse Burkhardt, Assistant Professor, Agricultural and Resource Economics, Agricultural Sciences
  • Jeffrey Pierce, Professor, Atmospheric Science, Walter Scott, Jr. College of Engineering
  • Nathan Mueller, Assistant Professor, Ecosystem Science and Sustainability, Warner College of Natural Resources and Soil and Crop Sciences, College of Agricultural Sciences