Global reduction of solar power generation efficiency due to aerosols and panel soiling

Abstract

Air pollution and dust prevail over many regions that have rapid growth of solar photovoltaic (PV) electricity generation, potentially reducing PV generation. Here we combine solar PV performance modelling with long-term satellite-observation-constrained surface irradiance, aerosol deposition and precipitation rates to provide a global picture of the impact of particulate matter (PM) on PV generation. We consider attenuation caused by both atmospheric PM and PM deposition on panels (soiling) in calculating the overall effect of PM on PV generation, and include precipitation removal of soiling and the benefits of panel cleaning. Our results reveal that, with no cleaning and precipitation-only removal, PV generation in heavily polluted and desert regions is reduced by more than 50% by PM, with soiling accounting for more than two-thirds of the total reduction. Our findings highlight the benefit of cleaning panels in heavily polluted regions with low precipitation and the potential to increase PV generation through air-quality improvements.

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Fig. 1: Average global surface solar resources and PV electricity generation, 2003–2014.
Fig. 2: Average reduction of PV CFs due to the effect of aerosols, 2003–2014.
Fig. 3: Comparison of regional-average percentage increase in PV CFs for fixed panels under various conditions.
Fig. 4: Comparison of aerosol impacts on PV CFs for fixed and tracking panels.
Fig. 5: Increase in PV CFs resulting from panel cleaning in various world regions relative to panel soiling removal by precipitation only.

Data availability

The datasets generated and analysed during the current study are available from the corresponding authors on reasonable request.

Code availability

The custom code generated during the current study is available from the corresponding authors on reasonable request.

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Contributions

X.L., M.H.B. and D.L.M. designed the research. X.L. prepared the data and performed the PV performance simulations. X.L., D.L.M. and M.H.B. analysed the results. X.L. and D.L.M. wrote the manuscript. All authors discussed the results and contributed to the manuscript.

Corresponding authors

Correspondence to Xiaoyuan Li or Denise L. Mauzerall.

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Supplementary Information

Supplementary Figs. 1–10 and Tables 1–4.

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Li, X., Mauzerall, D.L. & Bergin, M.H. Global reduction of solar power generation efficiency due to aerosols and panel soiling. Nat Sustain (2020). https://doi.org/10.1038/s41893-020-0553-2

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