Indian solar energy output hit by air pollution - GulfToday

Indian solar energy output hit by air pollution

Meena Janardhan

Writer/Editor/Consultant. She has over 25 years of experience in the fields of environmental journalism and publishing.

Writer/Editor/Consultant. She has over 25 years of experience in the fields of environmental journalism and publishing.

Illustrative image.

Illustrative image.

A recent study states that due to high air pollution, India is witnessing an estimated loss of US 245-835 million every year. Improvement in air quality will in turn improve the performance of the solar power projects, as reported by Mongabay-India. Prospects for India achieving the target of generating 100 gigawatts of solar power in 2022 have waned because of high levels of atmospheric pollution.

Energy production and emissions are also intertwined with health. The International Energy Agency has reported that 6.5 million deaths occur each year as a result of air pollution. “Energy production and use are by far the largest man-made sources of air pollutants,” says the IEA.

The study carried out by IIT Delhi and published in Environmental Research Letters, calculates that between 2001 and 2018 India lost 29% of its solar energy potential as a result of atmospheric pollution — equivalent to an annual loss of US $835 million. As of March this year, India had only reached the halfway mark of 50 gigawatts of installed solar capacity, according to the research group, Mercom India.

If India can reduce its air pollution problem, it will not only improve the performance of its solar power projects and accelerate India’s clean energy transition but would also result in saving crucial resources such as land, the study has revealed. With more efficient performance of solar power projects, India could meet its targets with lesser installation capacity and that translates into a lower land requirement for large-scale solar parks which in turn reduces chances of conflicts with the local communities and the environment.

According to the researchers who conducted the study, cleaner air and better performance of solar power projects would also mean that India could save a crucial resource like land by which conflicts with communities and the environment could also be avoided. The assessment of solar resources should be incorporated while conducting the cost-benefit analysis of any air pollution mitigation plans in India.

Mongabay-India reports that in 2015, India had set a target of installing 175 gigawatts (GW) of renewable energy projects including 100 GW of solar power by 2022. So far, India has achieved an installed capacity of 50.77 GW. The government of India maintains the country is on track to achieve the target as many projects are under construction and would soon be commissioned. In fact, buoyed by the rapid progress of its renewable energy target, India is now pursuing a target of 450 GW of renewable energy projects including about 280 GW of solar projects.

The study noted that the “loss of solar energy due to environmental factors like air pollution is not properly considered in renewable energy resource assessment” and said, “successful implementation of the National Clean Air Program (NCAP) and complete mitigation of household emissions through the supply of cleaner fuel for domestic use and rural electrification would allow India to generate a surplus of 6-16 TWh per year electricity from the existing solar power installed capacity in 2018…This translates to an economic benefit of 325-845 million USD annually, which is equivalent to the implementation costs of these social programs. Mitigating air pollution would therefore accelerate India’s progress to achieve its solar energy target at a lesser installation capacity, avoiding additional expenditure for the expansion of solar energy infrastructure.”

It points out that aerosols in the atmosphere attenuate incoming solar radiation through scattering and absorption and this is known as the “atmospheric attenuation effect.” In addition, aerosols often get deposited over panel surfaces and affect their PV performances, which is termed as “soiling effect.”

The IIT Delhi researchers estimated the surplus solar energy that India would be able to generate and economic benefits it can reap if air pollution levels in the country are reduced successfully by strictly implementing some of the major mitigation policies announced by the government of India or by meeting the World Health Organization’s (WHO’s) air quality norms. They stated that India’s solar energy goal can be realised on time, even earlier, if the current installation trend has been followed along with the air pollution mitigation plans.

According to the study, the economic benefit of reducing air pollution in terms of excess solar power generation is equivalent to the current implementation cost of the major air pollution mitigation policies and thus, it said, the assessment of solar resources should be incorporated while conducting the cost-benefit analysis of any air pollution mitigation plans in India.

Related articles

Other Articles