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Does Air Pollution Undermine Solar Energy?

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A tourist and her daughter wearing masks visit Tiananmen Square at dangerous levels of air pollution on January 23rd, 2013, in Beijing, China.

Officials in China have been grappling with some of the world’s worst air pollution for years, the result of rapid industrialization and a reliance on coal as a household energy source. The health risks of poor air quality are well-documented and severe; it causes some 1.6 million premature deaths in China every year. But new research, published today in Nature Energy, shows that poor air quality has also reduced the amount of sunlight reaching the country’s solar installations, undermining China‘s efforts to meet more of its energy needs with renewables.

The country has made great strides in reducing pollution in recent years. Beijing declared a “war on air pollution” in 2013, when the capital city faced apocalyptic levels of choking smog, and began rolling out policies to replace smog-producing coal with natural gas and renewables like solar power. Today, China is a world leader in solar energy; more than half of the globe’s installed capacity is located there.

That’s why the study’s lead author Bart Sweerts and his colleagues decided China would be the perfect place to study the relationship between anthropogenic emissions and solar energy.

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Thanks !

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