Aside from human health and air quality, air pollution created by coal and biomass is affecting other areas in China, including solar energy.
According to Ars Technica, the pollution in China is so severe that it is reducing the output of solar panels by restricting access to, or “dimming,” the sun.
Studies show that from 1960 to 2015, the average potential solar generation in China declined about 13 percent. Because the air pollution and other environmental factors varied in other locations in China, some areas saw solar generation drop as low as 20 to 28 percent, especially those with industrial centers, Ars Technica says.
These findings are troubling, especially since China is considered one of the top countries for new solar construction, accounting for over half of the world’ installs in 2017, according to Ars Technica. “China went from having less than 1 gigawatt of solar capacity to 130 gigawatts, and the country is headed for around 400 gigawatts by 2030.” The problem is that the country’s high amount of air pollution will likely squander that progress.
The power of China cleaning up its act:
Like most instances of air pollution, the most significant way that China can minimize negative impacts on its solar production is to clean up the environment. Ars Technica points to a study that shows how some of China’s cleanest air was available in the 1950s; if the country could regain that air cleanliness, its more recent solar installations would have paid off a lot more, to the tune of “an additional 14 terawatt-hours of electricity for free.”
On top of that, more solar panels will continue to be built in years to come, and the number of terawatt-hours will only increase. For example, “By 2030, cleaner air could net an additional 70 terawatt-hours of electricity each year—about 1% of total projected electricity generation at that point,”Ars Technica says. And, electricity won’t be the only thing growing with an air cleanup – its worth will, too. If 2016 had cleaner air, China’s solar panels could have brought in $1.9 billion worth of electricity; by 2030, that number could soar to $6 billion.
“Getting back to 1950s air quality would do more than that in China,” Ars Technica says. “As a business proposition, air pollution is holding solar back.”