According tomedia New Atlas, the global COVID-19 pandemic has changed the world in many ways, some obviously, some less obvious. Now, scientists have quantified an impact, finding that solar panels in some cities have increased power generation due to reduced air pollution.
Much of the world has largely stopped this year, and many countries have issued home orders in an attempt to stem the spread of the virus. With fewer cars on the roads and fewer planes in the sky, many factories and industries are shutting down, and we’ve seen a sharp drop in air pollution in COVID-19 affected areas such as China and Italy.
But the domino effect is not over. Recent reports suggest that this may affect the performance of solar panels in some areas. Now, a team of researchers led by the Massachusetts Institute of Technology has begun quantifying these effects. The researchers focused their research on Delhi, India, one of the world’s most smogled cities. They found that pollution levels had halved since the country imposed a mandatory blockade on March 24. Total solar panel power generation in the country increased by 8.3 per cent at the end of March and 5.9 per cent in April as the skies were clearer.
The team said these deviations were three to four times higher than expected for regular fluctuations over such a short period of time. The numbers may not sound like much in themselves, but the researchers point out that this could translate into a five-fold increase in profit margins for these systems.
“This is the first real quantitative assessment, you almost have a switch that you can ‘turn on and off’ air pollution, and you can see the effect,” said study author Ian Marius Peters. “You have the opportunity to baseline test these models in the absence of air pollution and the absence of air pollution.”
According to the team, the findings may suggest that solar energy can form a positive feedback loop. The more panels are installed, the cleaner the air and the more efficient the existing solar panels will be.
Of course, this is a very idealized version of events. In practice, real results can only be really noticed in places where air pollution is severe, such as Delhi. The researchers said they looked at earlier reports of similar solar boosts in the UK and Germany, but the data showed that the biggest contributor was good weather.
Peters said: “Air pollution levels in Germany and the UK are generally so low that most photovoltaic installations are not significantly affected. “
The study was published in the journal Joule.