At first, it sounds like bad news for solar energy. Duke University professor Mike Bergin undertook a study to examine the effect of particulate matter—often the byproduct of exhaust from diesel engines—on the efficiency of solar panels. He concluded that its accumulation can reduce solar panel efficiency by anywhere from 17% to 25%. The particles collect on the surface and form a physical barrier to the passage of sunlight.

Bergin’s study concluded that only about half of this decrease comes from the particulate matter settling on the solar panels. The rest is from ambient haze caused by atmospheric pollution. It’s a condition known as “solar dimming.”

A simple solution

You’ve probably already guessed it. According to Bergin, many solar power plants have automated systems in place that regularly wash the solar panels to remove what drifts down from the sky. It’s a common-sense solution.

And that’s crucial for efficient operation. A 2016 study done in Bagdad, India, found that solar panels left uncleaned for 30 days lost 18.7% of their efficiency. It’s difficult if you’re a homeowner with panels up on your roof, but if you’ve got a solar farm or a solar garden, you need to be out there keeping those panels clean!

Only half the solution

You can clean what you can reach, but what about the atmospheric air pollution? After a series of forest fires in Indonesia, a study found that solar panel arrays throughout Singapore experienced efficiency drops of up to 25% over a 10-week period. This was not caused by particulate matter on the panels themselves. Anybody who’s been to Singapore knows there’s enough frequent rainfall to keep the panels clean

What does this mean for solar power? Is it a Catch-22 situation where this renewable energy source is threatened from the byproducts of the fossil fuel energy source it hopes to complement and someday replace?

Again, common sense comes into play.

As the solar energy industry’s development cycle moves forward, we will have to take air pollution into consideration. The irony is that solar energy is the best solution for highly polluted areas. On the other hand, solar panels will struggle for optimal performance in these areas.

The good news is that there are vast areas across the globe where land is plentiful and available for both large solar farms, and smaller solar gardens. These regions are found where heavy air pollution is not a problem.

Solar gardens are growing in number and popularity as communities and groups of businesses discover they can band together and subscribe to receive a discount on their utility bills. Their collective “ownership” of the solar power generated is returned to them as a discount from their utility company.

Most of these solar gardens have been built in areas away from large cities, where congestion causes air pollution. You might say that staying away from the big city for the fresh country air is as good for your utility bill as it is for your lungs!

Find out more here if the idea of a solar garden is not on your radar. It’s a way to use solar energy to offset utility costs, and it’s especially valuable to business owners. Save up to 10% on office utility bills, and know exactly what your rate will be for the next 25 years. Read more about it here