China's Air Pollution Is So Bad It's Blocking Its Solar Panels

Solar energy is on the rise, however, so is China's thick smog and air pollution, blocking sunlight from reaching its solar panels.
Fabienne Lang
Nanchang, ChinaWangAnQi/iStock

Air pollution is on the rise in China. Not only does it create health issues for its residents as well as its neighboring countries, it's also blocking adequate sunlight from reaching its solar panels. 


A research published on Monday in Nature Energy unveils that up to 15 percent of solar power has decreased due to increased air pollution in China.

The good news is that if the country manages to lower these levels to those that existed during the 1960s, its solar power production would have huge benefits in curbing the climate change crisis. 

China's post-apocalyptic air pollution

The air quality in China has been rapidly decreasing due to its use of coal, as well as massive industrial manufacturing sector. Picture thick, gray, hazy smog and people walking around with masks covering half of their faces and you have a pretty good image of what certain cities in China now look like: eery post-apocalyptic scenes. 

China's Air Pollution Is So Bad It's Blocking Its Solar Panels
Beijing smog. Source: Kevin Dooley/Flickr

Up to 38 percent of Chinese citizens are subjected to these atrocious polluted air levels, counting for thousands of deaths each year in the country. 

These numbers should be enough to incite change in air regulations, but this new study sheds light (unfortunately not literally) on what's called the 'electricity bonus.'

Bart Sweerts, the lead author of the study and energy researcher at ETH Zürich, said "As such, this study provides a supporting argument for the primary driver behind air pollution control measures: reducing the detrimental effects on health."

With that in mind, solar panels require sunlight in order to generate energy. But with such bad air quality, the sun is being blocked from reaching China's solar panels. 

What the study discovered about China's air quality

The researchers used data to measure the amount of incoming sunlight across 119 stations around China, spanning the years between 1960 - 2015. This helped them gauge the country's solar generating capacity. 

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The results?

The team discovered that sunlight dimmed over the 55 years. The majority of the evidence points towards increasing air pollution as the main culprit. 

China's Air Pollution Is So Bad It's Blocking Its Solar Panels
China Hongqiao solar roof installation. Source: The Climate Group/Flickr

The team then checked how this affected the different types of solar installations across the nation, from a range of rooftop solar installations to utility-scale solar farms with panels fixed to rotate and follow the sun's movements.

What the research shows is that by 2016, due to the dimmer skies, China lost the equivalent of $1.9 billion in power generation. That amount would have powered 1.3 million homes in the U.S. for one year.

This research clearly shows how China has to find a solution to clearing up its air pollution, if they don't want to keep hurting their population with poor air quality.

This is especially important if they want to assist the world in curbing climate change, and ultimately, saving themselves millions of dollars. 

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