China is the world’s largest consumer of solar panels. Yet air pollution is significantly reducing its potential solar yield.
New data shows changes in air quality and cloud cover combined to reduce China’s potential solar energy output by 11-15 per cent between 1960 and 2015.
However, the good news is the situation could be remedied. Cleaning up air pollution to 1960 levels could increase solar generated electricity generation by 12-13 per cent.
Fossil fuel emissions, including coal, kill solar yield
The study was published this month in Nature Energy, a British science and energy journal. Its six contributing researchers are based at climate and molecular science organisations in Switzerland and the Netherlands.
It shows China reached 130 GW of installed solar capacity in 2017. The nation’s solar energy output is also expected to reach 400 GW by 2030.
Yet aerosol emissions, sulfur dioxide (SO2), black carbon and changes in cloud cover have combined to reduce solar radiation reaching panel, researchers found. This means burning of fossil fuels like coal and gas has had a major impact on solar efficiency.
China therefore needs to introduce strict air pollution measures, allowing surface radiation to increase again, researchers say.
Reverting to 1960 levels of air pollution would see economic benefits equal to $1.9 billion US in 2016 and $4.6-6.7 billion in 2030.
China working towards pollution reduction goals
China’s 13th five-year pollution reduction plan (2016-2020) aims to reduce the level of sulfur dioxide by 15 per cent on 2015 levels.
Coal burning caused around 91 per cent of China’s SO2 emissions between 1996 and 2010, researchers says.
The nation is now embracing renewable energy as it continues to cap and reduce coal consumption.
Researchers also think aerosol emissions will continue to decline up to 2030 because of successful air pollution policies. They see overall solar power generation yield increasing as a result.
Meanwhile, China has started to build an experimental space power plant in the city of Chongqing, the Sydney Morning Herald reports. It wants to capture solar energy and beam it directly back to earth.
Solar ascends in Australia as coal declines
Coal-fired power is also in marked decline in Australia as the nation embraces solar power. More than two million rooftops now have solar installations while commercial solar grew by 45 per cent in 2018.
Australian National University (ANU) figures show existing coal-fired plants currently generate cheaper energy than renewables.
However, these ageing plants will be very costly to refurbish or replace. In the meantime, ANU forecasts that renewable energy costs will also fall throughout the 2020s.
Last year’s GenCost report also found that renewable energy will generate the cheapest form of Australian power over coming decades.