Cities around the world have experienced reduced levels of air pollution during the COVID-19 pandemic, which served as a bit of silver lining during a global tragedy. In a new study published by Cell Press, researchers found that cleaner air in the Indian capital of Delhi has allowed more sunlight to reach solar panels, enhancing the production of solar power.
“Delhi is one of the most polluted cities on the planet,” said study first author Ian Marius Peters. “Moreover, India enacted a drastic and sudden lockdown at the start of the pandemic. That means that reductions in air pollution happened very suddenly, making them easier to detect.”
In previous work, Peters’ team had investigated the impact of air pollution on how much sunlight reaches the ground, as well as its effect on the output of solar power. The researchers had installed a photovoltaic (PV) system in Delhi to measure the amount of solar radiation, or the level of insolation, reaching solar panels.
For the current study, the team analyzed insolation data recorded by the photovoltaic system before and during the COVID-19 shutdown.
The analysis showed that in late March, the amount of sunlight reaching the solar panels in Delhi increased by 8 percent compared to the same dates over the previous three years. Air quality and particulate matter data indicated that reduced pollution levels were a major cause for the rise in solar power production.
“The increase that we saw is equivalent to the difference between what a PV installation in Houston would produce compared with one in Toronto,” said Peters. “I expected to see some difference, but I was surprised by how clearly the effect was visible.”
According to the researchers, the findings provide a solid foundation to further study the impact of air pollution on solar resources. They expect to find increased solar power output in other areas where air was cleaner due to lockdown measures.
“The pandemic has been a dramatic event in so many ways, and the world will emerge different than how it was before,” said Peters. “We’ve gotten a glimpse of what a world with better air looks like and see that there may be an opportunity to ‘flatten the climate curve.'”
“I believe solar panels can play an important role, and that going forward having more PV installations could help drive a positive feedback loop that will result in clearer and cleaner skies.”
The study is published in the journal Joule.
By Chrissy Sexton, Earth.com Staff Writer