A new study suggests that pollution in the air might be blocking up to 25% of potential solar energy.
Researchers at Duke University collaborated with scientists from the Indian Institute of Technology-Gandhinagar to figure out how much airborne pollutants impacted the efficiency of solar cells.
The study examined airborne pollutants, drawing on data from NASA’s GISS Global Climate Model. The researchers were able to gather information on how much of the sun’s energy was blocked by various airborne particles and retrieve estimates on how much particulate matter comes to rest on surfaces in countries around the world. The team could then extrapolate to determine around how much sunlight was being blocked by various forms of airborne pollution.
The team also examined how dust buildup on solar cells impacts solar energy gain, with the result that buildup from dust and other particulates on the panel could reduce efficiency by up to 50%.
The models showed that in more arid regions like Northern India, Eastern China, and the Arabian Peninsula both airborne and accumulated dust on the surface of a panel reduced energy production by 17 to 25 percent, assuming the panel is cleaned once a month. How much airborne particles reduce solar absorption varies between regions. For example, in the Arabian Peninsula most solar power is lost to dust, but in parts of China, airborne pollution is the main cause of solar power loss. According to the researchers, particulate matter accounts for somewhere around 780 MW of solar power loss in India, and around 7,400 MW of loss in China.
“China is already looking at tens of billions of dollars being lost each year, with more than 80 percent of that coming from losses due to pollution,” said Michael Bergin, the study’s lead author. “With the explosion of renewables taking place in China and their recent commitment to expanding their solar power capacity, that number is only going to go up.”