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Climate change to reduce solar radiation in hot, arid regions

A new Princeton University study shows that PV plants in hot, arid regions such as the Middle East and the American Southwest will be hit particularly hard by climate change.

Rising temperatures linked to climate change will have a direct impact on the performance of PV plants, as such shifts will also determine the growth of moisture, aerosols, and particulates in the atmosphere.

Researchers at Princeton University said this could also trigger an increase in the number of cloudy days and a decrease in solar radiation levels, especially in hot and arid areas such as the Middle East and the American Southwest.

“The daily radiation is expected to change in future climates due to altered cloud and aerosol patterns, presenting additional challenges for the long-term planning and management of solar energy,” the researchers said in “Impacts of solar intermittency on future photovoltaic reliability,” which was recently published in Nature Communications.

The team relied on satellite data and climate model outputs to characterize solar radiation intermittency and assess the future reliability of PV in different locations. In particular, they looked at Romania and United Arab Emirates. They said their calculations have shown that a slight decrease in solar radiation in the Middle East and Northern Africa could result in a significant increase in LOLP.

“The sensitivity analysis points towards a tradeoff between the mean solar radiation that quantifies the total potential solar power and the power reliability, which being related to intermittency remains a major concern in the absence of large power storage options,” the researchers said. “This contrasting behavior between solar power availability and reliability requires special attention in assessments of future solar energy scenarios.”

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Researcher Amilcare Porporato claimed that the results of the study could help solar project developers to design better power plants. They could also optimize storage to avoid the expansion of solar power capacity “in areas where sunlight intermittency under future climate conditions may be too high to make solar reliable.”

In August 2019, MIT researchers warned that climate change could reduce the yield of solar modules. The Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change has said that in some areas, the annual energy output of PV systems could fall by up to 50 kWh per kilowatt installed. The researchers said that for each degree of global temperature increase, solar modules could lose around 0.45% of their output, although they noted that the figure was a representative number.

In July of this year, an MIT-led international research team measured the reduction of air pollution due to the Covid-19 shutdown and its impact on solar radiation levels. They needed to confirm what they found in previous studies – that air pollution in cities can negatively affect the performance of PV modules. They also found that solar radiation in Delhi, one of the world’s most polluted cities, was around 8.3% higher in late March, after the Indian government implemented lockdown measures.

The results paint a plausible picture: Air pollution levels drop and this results in clearer air. In turn, this allows more sunlight to pass through the atmosphere, which increases the yield of PV installations, the researchers concluded.

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Source: pv magazine