Air Pollution in China is Negatively Affecting Solar Production

China's air pollution is so bad that solar energy output and efficiency in the country has decreased substantially.


’s air crisis is now affecting more than the health of its citizens – it is impacting the nation’s ability to properly capture and utilize . While panels can still operate when it is cloudy, there is a major difference between occasional cloud cover and smog pollution. Sunlight can still penetrate through a cloudy atmosphere but will struggle to reach the Earth if there is a thick layer of contaminated, man-made pollution in its way. The murky air in China is hardly breathable at its best. Now, at its worst, it may halt clean production in the country altogether. 

Decreased Solar Energy 

A recent study published by Nature Energy details the current state of solar energy production in China and how air pollution is primarily to blame for the drop in solar energy output and efficiency. Despite the advancements made in the solar energy field in China, progress as a whole has been stunted.  

Through the use of surface radiation data collected since the 1960s, researchers have determined that the solar power generated in China has decreased by a whopping 15% in the last half-century or so. This is surprising and discouraging, considering China’s resources, population density, and the urgency felt worldwide to end fossil fuel emissions in favor of other alternatives.  

It appears that while China has become a top global leader in solar energy in recent years, the country has woefully neglected an even larger problem that may make solar energy production ineffective or entirely obsolete if something does not change – and fast. 

Progression of Solar in China  

According to data from the World Economic Forum, China was not always at the top of the worldwide leaderboard for solar energy. Over the last 25 years or so, China has developed into a country that has more solar capacity and capabilities than any other country in the worldThe country is even home to the world’s largest solar farm located in the Tengger Desert in Northern China. In addition to China’s solar capacity capabilities and plenty of available land space for desert solar farms, the country is also the biggest clean energy investor in the world according to renewable energy investment trends from 2018. Despite some substantial progress when it comes to solar energy, China’s dependence on coal production is becoming an issue according to World Economic Forum data. Nearly 60% of China’s energy production still comes from coal, while only 5% is allocated to solar energy. 

That is why this study and these statistics regarding pollution are so discouraging and concerning; and not just for China, but for the rest of the fossil-fuel ridden world, as well. The number one solar energy hotspot in the world, with the most land capacity and financial investment funds, is hardly putting a dent in cutting back on fossil fuels. There is something wrong with the fact that China has more solar capabilities than most countries combined, yet is still the number one coal producing country in the world. How can two polar opposite energies compete in the same space? No wonder pollution from rampant coal production in the region is outweighing any efforts made for solar energy production. 

Ending Pollution for Solar and the Planet 

No matter how dismal they may seem, there is something to be gained from these statistics. Pollution is a major contributing factor to climate change in and of itself. Therefore, it is frightening to think that the solar solutions we are constructing may be ineffective if pollution and other man-made problems continue to threaten the health of our planet and accelerate global warming.  

As difficult as it may be, multiple problems and solutions must be juggled at once. While we should continue to construct and utilize solar panels and other clean energy resources, there are always going to be complex considerations. We must start tackling the big issues that directly impact production, rather than simply constructing solar panels, leaving them be, and neglecting to do what else must be done to support solar energy over the long term – such as cutting out coal production. Only then can we look forward to the possibility of a healthy planet for future generations to inhabit. 

You can read the original research report published by Nature Energy here. 



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