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The good news is heavily polluted countries, such as China, are changing their ways and investing in solar energy efforts. The bad news is the air pollution and dust in these areas are so intense that they’re actually blocking solar panels from receiving sunlight. Although this air pollution impact is much more prevalent in countries outside of the United States, we at Think Energy want our customers to be aware of this global energy issue.
Despite certain countries’ good-hearted efforts, such as China doubling its solar energy production in the past year, a recent study revealed that airborne particles and their collection on solar panels are responsible for decreasing energy output by up to 25 percent. Published in Environmental Science & Technology Letters by Duke University’s civil and environmental engineering professor Michael Bergin and his colleagues, the study states that these air pollution consequences are most prevalent in China, India and the Arabian Peninsula. ,
The grime that’s built up on these solar panels consists of 92 percent dust and 8 percent carbon and ion pollutants created by human activity. Although man-made particles make up a significantly smaller amount of the grime, these particles actually block sunlight much more efficiently than natural dust does. According to the study, every time grime buildup was cleaned off the solar panels after several weeks of being neglected, a 50 percent jump in efficiency occurred. Although it seems like cleaning solar panels more frequently would fight the effects of air pollution and solve this problem, the more often they’re cleaned, the more likely they are to be damaged.
When estimating solar energy production loss due to air pollution effects, researchers factored in the amount of blocked sunlight from both grime buildup on solar panels and from ambient particles floating in the air. The results for eastern China, northern India and the Arabian Peninsula were alarmingly high. Assuming that solar panels are being cleaned monthly, a loss of 17 to 25 percent or more still occurs. Even worse, when solar panels are only being cleaned every two months, a loss of 25 to 35 percent is present.
While the Arabian Peninsula loses significantly more solar power to dust rather than man-made pollutants, the opposite is true for China and India’s solar energy. China’s solar power sector is already losing tens of billions of dollars every year and over 80 percent of this amount is directly caused by the air pollution in China. For India, solar power generation is brought down as much as 50 percent of the installed capacity thanks to crop burning in northwestern areas.
Unfortunately, genuine efforts to rid air pollution in India and China are being combatted by the air pollution itself. With these countries utilizing solar energy technology now more than ever, we at Think Energy will be interested to see how they overcome these harmful impacts of air pollution.