The efficiency of solar panels depends on a lot of things. Dust and dirt can degrade performance. If they get too hot, they produce less electricity. Aiming them at the proper angle is crucial to optimal performance. But there is another factor that few people have thought much about until know — air pollution. Crud in the atmosphere — mostly from burning fossil fuels — obscures some of the sunlight falling on solar panels, causing them to produce less electricity.
One of the weird benefits of the coronavirus is that it has halted most industrial and transportation activities. With less junk spewing out of smokestacks and tailpipes, there is less pollution in the atmosphere. It’s almost as if some cosmic force is trying to tell us, “Hey, listen up, dummies. You’re killing yourselves and the Earth that sustains you with all this fossil fuel madness. Take a look around and see what life could be like if you just stopped depending on fossil fuels to power your lives!” But of course no one is interested in such wisdom, least of all the American government.
An odd thing happened in Germany last week. With crystal clear skies overhead, there was more solar power available than at any time in the country’s history, according to Time. DWD, Germany’s federal weather service, predicts clear skies will continue during the remainder of this week. “There is hardly a cloud over Germany,” Andreas Friedrich, a DWD spokesperson told Time over the phone. “And a high-pressure system over Scandinavia will keep these conditions in place until at least Friday.”
The new records are putting increasing pressure on coal generators in Germany. The government forecasts that green power will make up about 80% of the nation’s electricity mix by 2038 compared to just over 40% in 2019. Solar accounted for 40% of all electricity in Germany on Monday while coal and nuclear combined contributed only 22%, according to Agora Energiewende. Solar, wind, and other renewables accounted for 78% of Germany’s electricity output that day.
“Every year there’s more installed solar, so the record gets broken nearly every spring,” BloombergNEF analyst Jenny Chase said of the rise of solar power, adding that fewer flights and lower air pollution due to the coronavirus lockdowns may have lifted the share supply coming from solar.
Coronavirus-related shutdowns are accelerating market trends that spell doom for the dirtiest fossil fuel, Time says. Less activity has slashed electricity demand just as spring’s sunnier and windy weather boosts output from renewables, which have priority over fossil fuels in feeding into the German electrical grid. [Note: such a priority is not part of US energy policy.]
Since wind and solar are cheaper, electricity from coal is at a big economic disadvantage in Germany. “You have coal looking very much like the energy market’s loser,” Carlos Perez Linkenheil, a senior analyst at Berlin-based Energy Brainpool, told Time.
America has a very limited time to wake up to the advantages of green energy, but is running as fast as possible in the opposite direction at the moment. It is strongly favoring fossil fuel companies and has notified energy producers it’s OK to increase the amount of pollution from their operations because malignant actors like the Koch Brothers have spread the lie that the only good government is no government.
It’s time for Americans to stand up for less pollution, more renewable energy, and electric transportation — if they want to continue seeing clear skies overhead. The message has been sent but has it been received and will it be acted upon? “We’ll see,” said the Zen master.