Effect of Human-Induced Changes on Surface Solar Radiation

China is capable of considerably increasing its production of solar-generated electricity by taking relevant initiatives to reduce present air pollution levels.

This is one of the main findings of a new collaborative study that points toward a dimming trend or an ongoing decrease in the amount of solar radiation reaching solar panels.

Credit: University of Amsterdam

The study, headed by ETH Zurich and developed by collaborating with the University of Amsterdam, was published in Nature Energy on Monday, July 8th, 2019.

China is the largest global consumer of solar-generated electricity. As of 2017, it has 130 GW of installed capacity, which is anticipated to reach about 400 GW by 2030, fulfilling 10% of its primary energy needs.

Global Dimming

The scientists noted a “dimming” trend or an ongoing decrease in the amount of solar radiation reaching the surface of the earth, and hence the amount that can be used by solar panels. Their study outcomes reveal that air pollution accumulation in China from the 1960s (when China launched an intensive campaign of industrialization) has reduced solar energy potential by 13%.

The strong correlation and lack of clear alternative explanations show that most of the noticeable dimming in China is caused by emissions induced by human activities. However, high-quality data were required to support the conclusions of the research team.

Making Sense of the Data

Until recent times, the magnitude and cause of the radiation trends observed in China remained ambiguous because of uncertainties over data quality, which resulted from the variations in the use of instruments and observational schedules. Su Yang, a research member of the team, standardized a dataset encompassing 119 measurement stations in China by citing observations of radiation to a greater amount of sunshine-duration data from nearby stations.

The researchers also widely regarded data on the angle of panels or how they are tilted to receive solar radiation. Their results have promising implications for climate policy in China.

“Economic benefits could amount to 1.9 billion USD per year”

Reverting back to 1960s radiation levels in China could yield a 12–13% increase in electricity generation, equivalent to an additional 14-Terawatt hours when produced using the capacity available in 2016.

Bart Sweerts, Study Lead Author, University of Amsterdam

Sweerts, who is a recent graduate of the Earth Sciences Master’s Program at the UvA, added that “The corresponding economic benefits could amount to 1.9 billion USD per year. China is on track to realise its Paris Climate Agreement goal of obtaining 20% of its primary energy from renewable energy sources by 2030. By that time, the economic benefits would range somewhere between 4.6 – 6.7 billion USD per year.”

China has been actively looking for approaches to fight against air pollution caused by the use of coal as its major energy source. In a fast-growing solar energy sector, this data-driven study shows a clear relationship between air pollution and global dimming, highlighting the significance of gaining better insights into the effect of man-made changes on surface solar radiation.

Source: https://www.uva.nl/en

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