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Solar Panels Could Act as an Early Warning Sign for Bushfires

Solar Panels Could Act as an Early Warning Sign for Bushfires

Solar panels are a great solution to home electricity bills and our sustainable future. If solar panels share their real-time data on smoke cover, they may be able to give an early warning for bushfires.

Solar panels have proven to be more effective than traditional particulate matter sensors in measuring fine particulate matter (PM2.5) in the air. Unlike sensors that require regular cleaning and recalibration, solar panels can continuously provide reliable readings without the need for maintenance. 

Researchers from the University of New South Wales (UNSW) analysed data from 160 residential PV systems in New South Wales during the 2019-2020 Black Summer bushfire season. Their findings revealed that the reduction in power generation caused by smoke cover was significant enough to consider utilising these devices as an early warning system.

To transform rooftop PV systems into a reliable bushfire warning system, several components would need to be integrated. In addition to measuring PM2.5 levels, solar panels could also provide valuable data on solar irradiance and weather conditions. By combining this information with observations from thousands of residential PV systems, a comprehensive and accurate smoke monitoring network could be established. This system would be particularly beneficial in regional areas where weather stations are scarce but residential solar systems are prevalent.

Australia has made significant strides in harnessing solar energy. According to the Australian Photovoltaic Institute, the country’s PV capacity reached 34.2 gigawatts (GW) by the end of 2023. Furthermore, recent data from the Australian Energy Market Operator (AEMO) shows that solar panels accounted for 40 percent of East Coast energy generation at the beginning of February. With such a vast number of solar panels already in place, leveraging their capabilities for early bushfire detection seems like a logical and efficient solution.

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