A recently published scientific analysis indicates that solar energy systems installed in China can produce 13 percent more than they are presently and yield billions of dollars more in revenue were China able to reduce air pollution, including carbon and other greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions.
Worsening air pollution has been taking a growing toll on human and environmental health amid China's rapid industrialization. Data analysis spanning the period between 1960-2015 performed by Bart Sweerts of the Swiss Federal Institute of Technology in Zurich reveals the potential for big economic benefits and synergy exists between efforts to improve air quality and solar energy generation.
More solar power generation capacity had been installed in China— more than 170 gigawatts (GW) worth— as of year-end 2018 than any other country worldwide, New Scientist points out in a write-up
Air pollution causing solar dimming, among other things
Sweerts and fellow research scientists gathered solar radiation data from 119 stations across China for the years 1960-2015 and combined it with sulfur emissions and black carbon data to determine the impacts these aerosols have on solar energy generation. They found that air pollution decreased solar energy generation by 13 percent.
Reductions in solar energy output from photovoltaic (PV) systems installed in highly populated cities and metropolitan areas were higher due to higher levels of air pollution, the research team found.
All told, air pollution in 2016 would have resulted in 14 terawatt-hours (TWh) of lost solar energy output and $1.9 billion in potential revenue in 2016 alone, according to the analysis. That could jump as high as 74 TWh and $6.7 billion by 2030, when China expects to have tripled nationwide solar power generation capacity, the research team determined.
“This is many terawatts and many billion of dollars of lost revenue. These are substantial numbers even for a country like China,” Sweerts was quoted as saying.
Encouragingly, Sweerts and colleagues found a "minor reversal" of the solar dimming between 2010 and 2015. However, “it is very far from completely clean and very far from the situation in the 1960s," Sweerts said.