Air pollution might cast a cloud over India’s solar power ambitions. Providing another reason for the Indian government to tackle the poor air quality, a new report found that pollutants can dampen solar power generation by as much as 17%.
The problem is particularly bad in north India. Both dust and manmade sources contribute equally to the reduction in power generation. In some pockets of northwestern India the depression in solar power generation can be as much as 50% of the installed power capacity. “Crop burning here is one of the main reasons for this,” Chinmay Ghoroi, one of the authors of the report, and a researcher at IIT Gandhinagar.
Air pollution impacts solar generation because particulate matter and dust that is a form of pollutant prevent shortwave solar radiation required for energy production from reaching the panels. Though particulate matter produced from sources like vehicular pollution, industries and crop burning may make up only 8% of the pollutants, because they constitute partially burned carbon, tend to absorb solar energy.
Though the report cites installed solar capacity as 4.GW the current installed solar capacity, at the end of 2016-17 stood at 12 GW, accordingly the loss could actually be over 2 GW. India is not only leads the International Solar Alliance, it has set ambitious renewable energy targets of 175 GW by 2022. Last year, for the first time investment in renewable energy in the country surpassed investment in coal.
However, Ghoroi, expressed doubts about India’s ability to meet its solar power targets. Despite how much solar generation capacity in India grows, how much energy is actually produced also depends on natural factors like how much sunlight is received, what is the cloud cover, weather conditions and it seems heavily dependent on manmade factors like air pollution.
There are reductions in other regions like China and the Arabian peninsula that also invest heavily in solar power generation and also suffer from poor air quality. China has a larger installed solar capacity of so 17% translates into a loss of about 7400 MW of energy.