08 Apr 2024, 13:37
Benjamin Wehrmann

Saharan dust cuts solar power output in Germany

Die Welt / Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung

Dust blown in from the Sahara Desert in northern Africa to central Europe has reduced solar power output in Germany around the Easter holidays, newspaper Die Welt reported. Especially in the southern state of Baden-Wurttemberg, the power output of solar panels was significantly lowered by the aerosols that the wind carried from the world’s largest desert across the Mediterranean Sea. While grid operator TransnetBW’s had predicted a peak solar PV output of 3,500 megawatts (MW) for 30 March, the dust cloud in the sky cut maximum output to 1,600 MW. However, the operator added that part of the difference between predicted and actual output could also be attributed to regular deviations in forecast models that are unrelated to the dust. In order to fill the load gap in the grid caused by the desert dust, grid operators had to deploy other power plants, including conventional fossil fuel-powered plants. Moreover, load management in the grid means prices can temporarily spike and lead to additional costs that customers pay via their grid fees, the newspaper reported.

The meteorological phenomenon of Saharan dust in central Europe occurs up to 15 times per year and usually leads to dust particles accumulating at an altitude of about 2,000 metres, meteorologist Albert Ansmann said in an interview with the Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung. However, the event around Easter 2024 was particularly strong and saw aerosols fall to ground level, which may have resulted from higher-than-usual air temperatures above the Mediterranean, Ansmann said. Germany’s Meteorological Service (DWD) recently launched a forecast model that aims to better predict the effect of dust particles on solar PV output, but a major effect on the country’s total renewable power output remains unrealistic, the meteorologist said. “But it’s still reasonable to send out warnings,” as the phenomenon might occur more frequently due to climate change. Some operators may experience a drop to only 70 percent of the expected output, Ansmann added. The effect could be compounded if the particles are sprayed over solar panels by rain, meaning operators must take precautions to keep their installations clean, he concluded.

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