The pandemic of COVID-19 has forced governments worldwide to implement lockdown measures that went on to save many lives. But there were also consequences to the lockdown that manifested in the form of a major economic breakdown, disrupting industries, migrant crisis and joblessness of millions of people. As people were stuck inside their houses, a positive impact was noticed in the air quality in many cities. The lockdown led to a reduction in air pollution, causing an exciting phenomenon.
A recent research published in the journal Joule unfolds it.
Lead author Ian Marius Peters of Helmholtz-Institut Erlangen-Nürnberg for Renewable Energies in Germany focused on solar power in Delhi, one of the world’s most polluted cities, and found that lower levels of air pollution amidst the lockdown allowed significantly more sunlight to get through to solar panels in the city, increasing their output.
Delhi went into a strict lockdown on 24th March, 2020. Researchers used this opportunity to monitor the particle concentration of PM 2.5, a measure of fine particles less than 2.5 micrometers in diameter, in the air at the US embassy in Delhi before and after the lockdown. They then compared these figures to that of the last few years during the same time of the year. The researchers also looked at another indicator of the atmosphere, called irradiance – which means the amount of sunlight that reaches the Earth’s surface without being scattered or absorbed by particles and gases in the air.
Surprisingly, the researchers found that the amount of sunlight reaching solar panels in Delhi increased by around 8% in late March 2020 and 6% in April 2020, compared to the same months in earlier years. The team suggested that PV installations in the months of March and April received over 6% more sunlight in total than in previous years. This phenomenon will continue to generate a record amount of electricity as long as the air pollution levels in the city stay low. The authors also expected a similar scenario in other urban cities with high air pollution levels. which reduced due to COVID-19-related restrictions. These include Kolkata, Wuhan, Mumbai, Dhaka, Los Angeles and London.
This paper provides us with a glimpse of hope that there is still a way to flatten the climate change curve. Of course, air quality won’t be the same once the lockdown and its consequential travel restrictions are over. But what can we achieve if governments around the globe make necessary drastic measures to curb a pandemic? The question, however, remains whether governments across the world are willing to do the same for climate emergency or not.
It might take us another year to go back to the ‘New Normal’. In the meantime, humanity can re-evaluate its decisions to practice a more sustainable lifestyle with a clearer sky and fresh air to breathe in.