How Air Pollution Impacts the Effectiveness of Solar Power

Solar panels are awesome right? They capture the sun’s light and convert it into a form of renewable energy! However, what if I were to tell you that pollution can greatly impact solar panels’ renewable energy potential? Currently in India, air pollution is at an all-time high. Particulate matter, which consists of tiny solid or liquid airborne particles that are individually invisible to the eye, collectively restricts visibility by forming a haze in the sky. Particulate matter, along with the smog produced in the overlying air, is not only hazardous to human health, but also prevents solar panels from harnessing sunlight.

As outlined in the Phys.Org article “Air pollution throws shade on India’s solar success,” U.S. and Indian scientists have discovered that smog and air particles deposited on top of solar panels interfere with solar power generation. In fact, India’s largest solar farm of 2.5 million solar panels currently loses six times the energy produced due to smog and air particle interference.

India is the third largest polluter in the world. Vehicle emission of NOx, combustion of coal for electricity, and the burning of crops and trash all contribute to the generation of photochemical smog and increase the amount of particulate matter in their atmosphere. Though India committed to reducing emissions at the 2015 Paris Climate Summit by obtaining 40% of their energy from renewables by 2030, I agree with the article in that they currently fail to acknowledge how air pollution is the underlying cause of inefficient solar energy generation. While on track to meet their renewable energy goal, India is losing more than 25% of their solar generation due to pollutants.

One may think that there must be a way to clean the solar panels and eliminate the buildup of grime on their surface. And there is! Scientists are working on developing special solar panel coating that prevents dust or grime from settling. And yes, if successful, the panels will be more efficient in harnessing energy. Building such solar panels will help India reach their goal of relying on renewable energy, but sadly, no matter how India reaches their renewable energy goal, the smog will still be there. Air pollution will continue to impact people’s health and premature deaths in India will continue to climb to over 1.1 million per year.

India’s main focus needs to be set on decreasing air pollution, haze, and high dust levels. But in order to get there, I strongly believe that India needs to educate their citizens about the dangers of air pollution and get their support on diminishing air pollutants, especially in their highly populated cities. Only then will India be able to support a healthy population and allow their expensive and numerous solar panels to achieve the level of renewable energy they were built to attain.

One thought on “How Air Pollution Impacts the Effectiveness of Solar Power

  1. This is an interesting angle. I’ve heard about particulate air pollution reducing crop yields in China by scattering so much light … even if solar panels are clean, this kind of light scattering could still reduce the panels’ output.

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