British Columbia

B.C. fires: Heavy smoke made it impossible to generate solar power

The rains have started to fall, but thick smoke produced by wildfires this week rendered solar panels completely useless at one museum in Grand Forks.

The Boundary Museum's solar-only building wasn't producing any energy in Grand Forks

Smoke billows from a forest fire east of Grand Forks, B.C. The wildfire forced authorities to close Highway 3 between Christina Lake and Highway 3B. (Bob Keating)

The rains have started to fall, but thick smoke produced by wildfires this week rendered solar panels completely useless at one museum in Grand Forks.

Last year, the Boundary Museum added a building that was powered solely by the sun.

But wildfires caused a thick blanket of smoke to settle over the southern Interior, creating problems for the building's energy production.

"When it was thick as pea soup, there was no power generated at all," said Cliff Schuh, treasurer at the Boundary Museum.

Shuh said that even with heavy cloud, as long as it is high in the sky, the photovoltaic cells are able to generate about 60 per cent of their maximum energy production. 

However, the air was so thick with particles this week that the sun's rays were completely blocked from reaching the solar panels. 

The building runs on 32 backup batteries which could last approximately one month if the museum shuts off the building's heat pump and only uses energy for its LED lights, Schuh said.

Schuh said the situation improved somewhat Thursday, and the 12-kilowatt system was able to generate about 2.6 kilowatts of power.

Environment Canada meteorologist Matt MacDonald said he expects the smoke to continue to dissipate this weekend as the region experiences steady rain and high winds.

To hear the full interview with Cluff Schuh, listen to the audio labelled: Smoke renders solar panels useless at Boundary Museum.

To hear the full interview with Matt MacDonald, listen to the audio labelled: Flood risk follows Metro Vancouver's dry summer.


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