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China’s pollution is getting in the way of its solar energy goals

Illustration: Egan Jimenez / Woodrow Wilson School of Public and International Affairs

Although China is increasing its solar energy supply, air pollution is blocking sunlight and reducing energy output in China, according to a study published today in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences. The study is the first to calculate how much aerosols in the atmosphere are reducing China's solar energy generating efficiency.

Why it matters: China has set a goal of meeting 10% of the country's electricity needs with solar by 2030, and this shows a potentially intractable obstacle to meeting that milestone. On the flip side, it could encourage countries with emerging solar power to cut emissions or refocus solar panel efforts to more sparsely populated or remote areas, where pollution is less severe.