Air Pollution Reduces Solar Energy Output, According To Study

First Posted: Jun 28, 2017 06:04 AM EDT

Depleting natural resources have had humans resort to other sources of energy over the past few decades. Solar energy, which harnesses power from the Sun, became a source of electricity for many people around the globe. Unfortunately, it seems that there is a 25 percent less yield than there should be -- and to no surprise, humans are, in part, at fault.

A new study published in the Environmental Science and Technology Letters journal said that thanks to air pollution and the dust and atmospheric particulate matter that came with it solar cells are cutting their energy output by over 25 percent in some parts of the world.

Michael H. Bergin, a professor of civil and environmental engineering at Duke University and head author of the study, said that while it has been known that pollutants were bad for human health and climate change, their study proved how bad pollution is for solar energy as well. After seeing dusty solar panels in India, Professor Bergin and his team decided to put together a model that estimates how dirt affects the efficiency of solar technology.

As Down To Earth reported, their data showed a 50 percent increase in efficiency every time the solar panels are cleaned after being left to gather dust for several weeks. The study also showed that of the grime stuck on the panels, 92 percent is made of dust, while the remaining 8 percent consisted of carbon and ion pollutants from human activity.

The small amount of carbon and ion pollutants is no small matter. They block light more effectively than natural dust does, making them almost equal to dust as antagonists in solar energy efficiency.

As per Professor Bergin's calculations, the U.S. has relatively little dust compared to more arid regions like the Arabian Peninsula, Northern India and Eastern China. In these areas, there are heavy solar energy losses of about 17 percent to 25 percent -- or even more -- assuming that these places clean their solar energy panels monthly. If cleanings occur only every two months, the number rises up to 35 percent.

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