As Coronavirus Shutdowns Reduce Air Pollution, European Solar Generation Breaks Records

Workers install solar panels in Bavaria, Germany in 2009.

Workers install solar panels in Bavaria, Germany in 2009. Windwärts Energie GmbH / Mark Mühlhaus

Three of Europe’s biggest economies — Germany, Spain, and the United Kingdom — have recently achieved new records in solar generation, due in part to a drop in air pollution from coronavirus-related shutdowns, which has cleared skies and boosted production of photovoltaic cells, Greentech Media reported.

Germany generated a record-high 32.2 gigawatts (GW) of solar power earlier this week, accounting for 40 percent of the country’s electricity needs, according to Bloomberg News. And UK solar production peaked at 9.68 GW this week, up from a previous record of 9.55 GW set in May 2019, according to Sheffield Solar, a project of the University of Sheffield. In total, the UK has gone without coal power on its grid for nearly two weeks.

UK and German solar production has been aided by a streak of sunny, cool weather (solar panels perform best in cooler temperatures) and a decline in air pollution as industries remain closed and cars stay off the road during the pandemic. The UK, for example, has seen at least a 25-percent decline in nitrogen oxide levels in recent weeks, Greentech Media reported.

“Ideal weather conditions and lower levels of pollution than normal mean solar is providing record levels of cheap, clean power to the grid,” Chris Hewett, chief executive of the U.K.’s Solar Trade Association, said in a statement.

Spain’s record-high solar production is the result of last year’s boost in installations, which expanded new capacity by 4.7 gigawatts. On March 26, Spain generated 6.3 GW of solar power, accounting for about a quarter of the country’s electricity needs.