China is the largest consumer of solar power in the world, and its energy industry is trying to make a shift from the coal-burning past filled with air pollution towards a sustainable future. However, there is a problem that the country faces; as per research published in the journal Nature Energy, the densely polluted atmosphere is preventing solar panels from harnessing the sun power.
The fast-paced economic expansion of China was powered by coal that helped millions of people to get out of poverty. However, it also escalated the levels of air pollution. The research was led by Bart Sweerts of the Institute for Atmospheric and Climate Science in Zurich. The study mapped the effect of air pollution on the potential solar output form the 1960s up to 2015.
The results have shown that the average solar generation has dropped by 11-15% over the specified period. The researchers have also stated that if the air quality levels of the 1960s are achieved; an increase in solar energy harvest of more than 12% could be achieved. Economic loss is just one aspect of air pollution. When you consider the human health; the effects are many. As per WHO, 90% of the global population is breathing air that features high levels of pollutants. Air pollution is also the fourth-highest cause of death in the world.
China has the second spot on the list of the highest number of deaths that are pollution-related. However, China is working towards a solution. Going as far back as the 2008 Beijing Olympics, measures have been put into place for improving the air quality of the capital city. By implementing rigorous environmental regulations, a 30% improvement was recorded within a year. Back in 2013, China started work on cleaning up the air quality of its other cities as well. The sources of air pollution and toxic rain were identified.
However, China relies strongly on manufacturing, and this poses a problem with its goal of improving air quality. China’s solution is to focus on new infrastructure investment into renewable energy technologies. Although the International Energy Agency has shown with its data that coal contributed to 60% of China’s energy in 2016 as compared to 5% for solar power; things are changing. It is being reported that by 2040, China will bring down its coal dependency from 2/3rd to 40%.