China could significantly boost solar power production by cutting local air pollution, study

Shenzhen, China

China’s efforts to reduce chronic air pollution could increase its ability to generate solar power by up to 13 percent by allowing more sunlight to reach the earth, according to a study published by the »Nature Energy« journal. »Anthropogenic aerosol emissions and changes in cloud cover affect solar radiation in China.« Climate researchers from Switzerland, the Netherlands and China used observational radiation data from 119 stations across China to show that the PV potential decreased on average by 11 to 15 percent between 1960 and 2015. »The relationship between observed surface radiation and emissions of sulfur dioxide and black carbon suggests that strict air pollution control measures, combined with reduced fossil fuel consumption, would allow surface radiation to increase.«
Reverting back to 1960s radiation levels in China could increase the electricity generation, equivalent to an additional 14 TWh produced with 2016 PV capacities, and 51 to 74 TWh with the expected 2030 capacities. The corresponding economic benefits could amount to $1.9 billion in 2016 and $4.6 to 6.7 billion in 2030.
China is the largest worldwide consumer of PV electricity, with 130 GW of installed capacity as of 2017 and 170 GW at the end of 2018 (about 9 percent of total generating capacity). China’s PV capacity is expected to reach at least 400 GW by 2030, to provide 10 percent of its primary energy, says the article. The journal received the article in September 2018 and published it in July 2019.
In December 2018, Swiss Federal Institute of Technology Zurich (ETH Zurich) announced that China could provide 85 to 158 terawatt hours of additional electricity per year in 2040 with its current and newly built photovoltaic plants, provided that emissions from energy, transport, industry and households could be completely eliminated. The additional production would be at least one third greater than Switzerland's current electricity requirements and would generate up to $10.1 billion more for the Chinese electricity industry from solar power generation. »However, the potential for growth is not the same in all parts of the country. For example, solar radiation in Beijing would increase by only eight percent, but by 26 percent in the central Chinese provinces such as Chongqing.«

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