Air pollutants on solar panels reduce power generation by 17%

Scientists from IIT-Gandhinagar say that particles generated from emissions linked to human activity are more disruptive than dust

June 28, 2017 09:52 pm | Updated 11:52 pm IST - CHENNAI

Particulate matter — dust, black carbon and organic carbon from biomass burning and fossil fuel — deposited on solar panels and present in the ambient air is responsible for about 17% reduction in solar power generation in India.

This translates to the reduction of about 2 Gigawatts (GW) in solar power production for about 12 GW installed solar power capacity. The Centre has set an ambitious renewable energy target of 175 GW by 2022.

Dust and non-dust particulate matter deposited on solar panels and present in the air prevent shortwave solar radiation from reaching the panels, thereby reducing energy production.

The field study was carried out between January and March 2016 and samples were collected from multiple solar panels located at Indian Institute of Technology (IIT), Gandhinagar. The results were published in the journal Environmental Science & Technology Letters .

Man-made particles

Analysis of samples collected from the solar panels revealed that dust accounted for 92% while the remaining fraction was composed of organic carbon, black carbon and ions produced from sources linked to human activity. However, dust has less influence in reducing solar energy production compared with man-made particles.

“Owing to their larger size, dust particles have less influence on solar panel transmittance, and scattering by dust particles is also relatively less compared with the combustion-related particulate matter,” says Prof. Chinmay Ghoroi, Department of Chemical Engineering, IIT Gandhinagar, and one of the authors of the paper. “The smaller man-made particles effectively block more light than natural dust.”

Risk of damage

“The man-made particles are also small and sticky, making them much more difficult to clean off,” sayd Mike H. Bergin, Duke University, and the lead author of the paper. “You might think you could just clean the solar panels more often, but the more you clean them, the higher the risk of damaging them.”

The study found an average 50% jump in efficiency each time the panels were cleaned every 20-30 days. But if the cleaning was carried out once every two months, the efficiency decreased a lot. The study suggests that regular cleaning of the panels alone will not be of much help if particulate matter, particularly man-made particles, is present in the ambient air. “Thus efficient emission control measures are required to maximise solar energy generation,” added Prof. Ghoroi.

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