Climate change complicates the effectiveness of solar power in the world’s hot regions

Oct. 7, 2020

As the planet warms because of human-induced climate change, regions considered ideal for generating solar power—such as the American Southwest and the Middle East—may not prove as promising as originally thought.

In a first-of-its-kind study, Princeton researchers used satellite data and climate models to assess the reliability of solar power under climate change. They discovered that higher temperatures create an increase in moisture, aerosols and particulates, which limits the amount of solar radiation reaching the Earth’s surface and produces cloudy days. This phenomenon is most pronounced in hot, arid regions of the world.

“Our results could help in designing better solar power plants and optimizing storage while also avoiding the expansion of solar power capacity in areas where sunlight intermittency under future climate conditions may be too high to make solar reliable,” said Amilcare Porporato, Princeton’s Thomas J. Wu ’94 Professor of Civil and Environmental Engineering.

The researchers plan to continue this line of research by investigating, among other topics, how the number of consecutive cloudy or sunny days affects solar power. They will also investigate how clouds could affect the effectiveness of tree planting as a climate mitigation strategy.

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