Growing Air Pollution is Affecting Green Energy Transition in India

India’s success in becoming a leading country in green energy revolution within just a couple of years, shows exemplary policy and support structure established by the Government of India. Installed solar energy capacities growing by leaps and bounds (from 5 GW in 2015 to 10 GW in 2016 and ~23 GW in 2018) clearly highlight India’s intent to solarize the country, offering power to all. However, attracting investments, creating policy environment, and raising awareness to speed up solar adoption rate may not produce the result as quickly as we want due to another critical issue: pollution.

Pollution: Blocking Out Solar Growth

The share of fossil fuel in world’s energy supply has grown from 6,100 million tonnes of oil equivalent (Mtoe) in 1977 to nearly 14,000 Mtoe by 2017. Also, it is suspected that global energy-related CO2 emissions will increase from 32.3 billion metric tons to 43.2 billion metric tons in 2040, if serious changes are not implemented. However, not just our future, the present pollution level is quickly becoming a major roadblock for solar growth, which can potentially improve upon the energy scenario in future. To re-establish the importance of green energy transition, we should highlight that 1 kW of green energy can reduce more than 3,000 pounds of CO2 annually. And Countries like Japan already have recorded 0.4%/year reduction in CO2 emission through solar adoption.

India is clearly walking on the same path towards green energy transition, trying to phase our fossil fuel and cut pollution levels. However, the continuously degrading pollution levels are posing as a threat to solar growth in India.

In Northern parts of India, rising dust and particulate matter (PM) in the environment have reduced the energy yield of solar plants by 17-25%. The dust and particulate matter create a wall between rays from the sun and the solar panels, shrinking down the energy generation capacity. A case in point is reduction in solar generation capacity of solar panels in Delhi, which stand at 12% per year (from 2017). This reduction in energy yield is larger than the profit margins of some installations. Lost revenues from solar power generation in Delhi alone stands at $20 million annually. In Kolkata (another city in India), the loss of revenue stands at $16 million.

Similar instances were seen in Baghdad, Singapore and other states/cities around the world where air pollution has resulted in 15-25% solar energy yield loses.

Solar Needs to Perform To Succeed

Although, solar energy harvesting and usage is not a new technology, its world-wide acceptance as the future mainstream energy source is rather new. And in order to become the mainstream energy supply, solar has to satisfy rapidly growing energy demand in India (India’s energy consumption is expected to grow by 4.2% p.a) and the world (Global energy demand grew by 2.1% in 2017). Regardless of evolving technology that is increasing PV module’s energy harvesting efficiency,  and falling solar panel price, solar cannot satisfy the demand if the ambient pollution barrier blocks the sunrays.

Therefore, it is clear that increasing ambient pollution stands as a clear and present danger to solar adoption in India.

The Solution

It is clear that pollution is not only a growing threat to our environment; it is also slowing down solar growth, which stands as the best protective measure against pollution. It is important to point out that, a recent report by The Centre for Policy Research and International Institute for Applied Systems Analysis highlighted that, although India’s CO2 emission from energy generation is expected to double in 2030 from its 2012’s emission figures, the level of pollution will still be under nationally determined (in Paris Agreement) CO2 emission level.

However, as current pollution level is already dealing a damaging blow to solar energy harvesting performance, the Government of India needs to take extensive measures to increase solar growth. Frequently cleaning the panels, wiping out the barrier created of fine dust particles has to be undertaken. But, more importantly, focusing on auctioning more projects, stabilizing solar tariff, exempting SEZ based solar manufacturers from 25% safeguard duty, enforcing RPO targets, discouraging states from re-negotiating PPAs, and reducing solar module imports to build domestic manufacturing excellence is desperately needed.

Increasing solar power adoption rate tremendously within India and solving issues within the solar panels project installation processes would help India to outpace pollution and maintain energy and environmental stability.