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The Impact on Solar PV During the COVID-19 Pandemic

Aniket

Written by qualified solar engineer Aniket on May 19, 2020

Within a few months, the Coronavirus pandemic has wreaked havoc on the global economy. All businesses are hit badly. The solar energy sector, however, is an interesting unfolding of a story. On the surface, the sector seems to have taken a hit like any other, however a closer look reveals that recent events are going to shape the future of this industry.

There is an increased discussion for a ‘green recovery’, which puts clean and primarily solar energy at the heart of the economic recovery from this pandemic. The reduced pollution from lockdowns around the world has shown greater power generation from solar plants, garnering more attention to itself. In addition, people are realizing the importance of self-sustenance and energy independence, which adds to solar energy’s long-term promise of a more secure world.

The Setback

On April 28, a UN report stated that nearly half of the global workforce may lose their jobs due to Covid-19. This statistic, among many others, underlines the gravity of the economic slowdown this pandemic has brought. Unfortunately, this does not spare the solar power industry. For example, Bloomberg New Energy Finance expects the volume of new solar projects to fall 30% or more in 2020, while the solar industry itself forecasts a decline in rooftop solar of up to 70% in the second quarter.

A Wood Mackenzie analysis had originally forecasted the solar PV installations to be 129.5GW, but as the pandemic spread, they brought the number down to 106GW. Without a doubt, the hardest hit sectors are the small and medium scale solar businesses, which deal mainly with rooftop systems of sizes ranging from a few kW to a few hundred kW.

graph on global annual pv installations by region

The unfortunate part, however, is that the government is not keen in saving the solar energy sector.

According to the Washington Post, “The lack of attention to renewables in Congress’s relief efforts so far is in stark contrast to 2009, when the United States spent $112 billion to boost ‘green’ energy, according to the World Resources Institute. The government’s package then provided a mixture of grants and loans for a variety of renewable energy ventures — including a $465 million loan Tesla used to get its Fremont factory off the ground.”

The Silver Lining

Thousands of jobs have been lost within the solar industry. But the International Energy Agency (IEA) has stated that while the demand for global energy fell 3.8 percent in the first quarter, renewables were the only source to post an increase in demand. This is attributed mainly to the growth of solar plants and their low operating prices.

Worldwide, movements are taking shape to put clean energy – mainly solar – at the heart of the stimulus packages that will be employed to bring the economy back on rails. The most noteworthy of these is the demand by the ministers of 13 European nations to put the ‘European Green Deal’ at the center of the green recovery. This includes nations such as Germany, France, Sweden, and the Netherlands. Solar energy plays a significant role, as it is the most flexible and cost-effective energy source in the Green Deal. Several other national and international organizations are demanding governments to focus on a more sustainable recovery by giving greater emphasis to solar power, such as CANSIA in Canada.

In an unexpected way, lockdowns all over the world have reduced pollution levels by a large extent – six times lower than the last low in 2009, as per an IEA report. This has led to the reduction in diffusion of sunlight, which is a common occurrence in polluted areas. As a result, the direct sunlight is far more capable of producing peak or near peak power from arrays of solar plants.

A study by the ETH Zurich said that global dimming from pollution can cost China, which is the world’s greatest solar energy producer, billions of dollars due to pollution levels. The lockdown following the coronavirus outbreak has underlined solar power’s potential to generate tremendous amounts of electricity in a much cleaner atmosphere.

For example, in Europe alone, the lockdown has cut CO2 emissions by 39% and increased solar power generation by a staggering 28%. This has evidently attracted attention to what the combination of a cleaner environment and solar power can do!

Vulnerability and Self-Sustenance

As the pandemic set in and news of lockdowns were heard, a wave of panic buying was seen among citizens. Their stocking up consisted of not only sanitizers and toilet paper, but seeds for vegetables and sometimes even solar panels and batteries.

One example is this company in Australia that saw a 400% increase in solar panel and battery enquiries. Another is Sunrun’s nearly 40% jump in stock prices, an all-time high for per-day sales in April, especially after a difficult few months after the pandemic began.

People have realized, among other things, how vulnerable their lives are to events like these. They know that by being self-sustaining, being future-proof will take them a long way, until we have a world powered by solar energy.

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