China has made leaps and bounds towards sustainable energy and is now considered to be the number one country for new solar energy installations. Following a 50% manufacturing increase in 2017 from previous years, their installations of solar energy was proving hopeful to decrease the air pollution problem that has plagued China for a number of years now. The latter half of the last decade saw China increase their solar energy from less than 1 gigawatt in 2010 to 130 gigawatts in 2017. However, their goal of meeting a 400-gigawatt target by 2030 is looking increasingly uncertain as air pollution continues to cause environmental havoc.
Following on from China’s rapid industrialisation and prosperous economic growth, many have been keeping a close eye on their environmental status. Recent research would suggest up to 14-terawatt hours of solar energy is being lost due to the rising levels of pollutants entering the air. As more of these pollutants remain trapped in the atmosphere, the quality of sunlight is reducing significantly to a point which was worse than pollution levels in pre-industrialised China – despite the surge in solar energy investment.
To no-one’s surprise, it appears the more developed cities are the ones suffering the most, having seen reductions in solar efficiency of up to 28%. Research findings show if Chinese air quality from 1960 was paired with the level of solar energy installations of the last few years, production of solar energy would be up 13% from current production.
To monetise the value of this loss in solar power, experts suggest China is losing the equivalent of $1.9 billion. In an attempt to rectify the problem, China are exploring the possibility of terrestrial photovoltaic stations – i.e solar plants in space. In a bid to beat the clouds, these stations would use solar energy captured in situ and send it back to earth for consumption. This idea, originally proposed by the United States Department of Energy, could also take advantage of the lack of climatic conditions in the stratosphere and avoid the pause that night-time brings.
Although there is potential, can China ever have the answer to sustainable modernisation?
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