Air pollution blocks China’s solar energy potential

Severe air pollution in China is blocking light from the sun, significantly reducing the country’s solar energy potential, according to research from Princeton University.

China aims to meet 10 per cent of its electricity needs with solar energy by 2030 and is rapidly expanding its solar power supply to achieve this. But severe air pollution is thwarting China’s solar initiatives by blocking light from the sun.

According to research from Princeton University, the problem is even worse in the winter when air pollution blocks about 20 per cent of sunlight from reaching solar panel arrays, particularly in the northern and eastern parts of the country. There, aerosol pollution is reducing the potential for solar electricity generation by as much 35 per cent.

“Developing countries with severe air pollution that are rapidly expanding solar power, such as China and India, often neglect the role of aerosols in their planning, but it can be an important factor to consider,” said Xiaoyuan (Charles) Li, the stud’s lead author.

The wintertime effect of aerosol pollution – which includes sulphate, nitrate, black carbon particulates and brown organic compounds – is as significant as that of clouds.

The study’s findings should help spur countries like China and India cut aerosol emissions so they reduce pollution and thereby increase their solar electricity generation more rapidly. It can also help determine where to build new solar arrays, e.g. away from industrialized, urbanized region where aerosol pollution is highest.

For their next project, the researchers are expanding their analyses to other regions of the world, including India. They will also examine how air pollutants may reduce power generation by dirtying the solar panels themselves.


Image credit: Kentaro IEMOTO via Wikimedia Commons

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