Global measures enforced to contain the runaway global health disaster posed by the spread of the novel Coronavirus, while crippling to economies, have delivered a number of positive outcomes – both expected and unexpected.
A new study based in India has added the to latter category, with the discovery of “unusually high insolation levels” during the Covid-19 lockdown in Delhi in March, increasing the amount of sunlight reaching solar panels by almost 10%.
The research, out of the Helmholtz-Institut Erlangen-Nürnberg for Renewable Energies in Germany, was based on data from a Delhi solar installation used for previous studies on the effect of air pollution on the output of solar panels.
It found that in late March, when the Indian state was in lockdown against Covid-19, the amount of sunlight reaching the solar panels in the Indian city increased about 8%, compared with data from the same dates from 2017 to 2019.
The insolation at midday increased from about 880 W/sqm to about 950 W/sqm, the study found. And information on air quality and particulate matter suggested that reduced pollution levels were a major cause for the rise.
“Delhi is one of the most polluted cities on the planet,” said first author Ian Marius Peters in the journal Joule.
“Moreover, India enacted a drastic and sudden lockdown at the start of the pandemic. That means that reductions in air pollution happened very suddenly, making them easier to detect.
“The increase that we saw is equivalent to the difference between what a PV installation in Houston would produce compared with one in Toronto,” Peters said. “I expected to see some difference, but I was surprised by how clearly the effect was visible.”
The news bodes well for a world switching to electric vehicles and to clean, renewable energy production; suggesting that the lower the pollution in the air, the markedly better the performance of the world’s ever-growing solar generation capacity.
This boosted solar performance will be all the better for a world that will increasingly rely on electricity for transport and industrial uses.
“We’ve gotten a glimpse of what a world with better air looks like and see that there may be an opportunity to ‘flatten the climate curve’,” Peters added.
“I believe solar panels can play an important role, and that going forward having more PV installations could help drive a positive feedback loop that will result in clearer and cleaner skies.”
For the researchers, the new data from Delhi, combined with their earlier findings, provides a solid foundation to further study the impact of air pollution on solar generation.
They expect to also find an increased output of power from solar panels in other areas where air was cleaner due to lockdown measures.
Already, the UK has observed a similar trend. As RenewEconomy reported in April, data from the Sheffield Solar Live PV tracker – which is run by the University of Sheffield – found solar generation reached a peak and new record high of 9.68GW at around midday on April 20, meeting almost 30% of UK electricity demand at the time.
“Ideal weather conditions and lower levels of pollution than normal mean solar is providing record levels of cheap, clean power to the grid,” said Chris Hewett, chief executive of the Solar Trade Association. “At a time when most of us are working remotely, we can say that solar is truly keeping the WiFi on.”