Air Pollution and Renewable Energy

Emissions of both greenhouse gases as well as particulate matter (PM) and related precursors influence the radiation balance of the Earth, and hence surface irradiance, the hydrological cycle, and climate. It is clear that air pollution influences wind, solar, and hydropower generation. In the past, we have worked on several projects to determine the impact of PM on climate through both direct and indirect radiative forcing at many locations around the world (refs). More recently we have taken a keen interest on the impact of air pollution on solar energy production. PM influences solar energy both by influencing the amount of solar radiation reaching the surface, and depositing onto solar panels and decreasing solar panel transmittance (soiling). Our recent work suggests that in polluted areas solar energy can be reduced by as much as 40% by PM, and that globally the loss in energy production comes at a cost of 10’s of billions of dollars per year (Bergin et al., 2017). With our collaborators at Duke (Dr. Drew Shindell) and IIT Gandhinagar (Dr. Chinmay Ghoroi) we are currently developing and deploying low-cost soiling sensors to assess the problem at several locations around the World (Valerino et al., 2020). We are also developing a global model to predict the influence of PM on solar energy production, and mitigation strategies to optimize production and minimize losses around the World. In addition, we are collaborating with partners to develop novel surface coatings and approaches to reduce soiling, as well as remote sensing techniques to detect soiling using machine learning methods.

Highlighted peer-reviewed publications: 

Valerino, M., Bergin, M.H., Ghoroi, C., Ratnaparkhi, A., Smestad, G.P., Low-cost solar PV soiling sensor validation and size resolved soiling impacts: A comprehensive field study in Western India, Solar Energy, 204(1), 307-315, 2020.

Bergin, M.H., C. Ghoroi, D. Dixit, J.J. Schauer, D. Shindell, Large reductions in solar power due to dust and air pollution, Env. Sci. Tech. Lett., 4 (8), 339-344, 2017.

Li. X., Mauzerall, D., Bergin, M.H., Global reduction of solar energy generation efficiency due to aerosols and panel soiling, Nature Sustainability, 3, 720-727, 2020.