The impact of photovoltaic (PV) installations on downwind particulate matter concentrations: Results from field observations at a 550-MWAC utility-scale PV plant
With utility-scale photovoltaic (PV) projects increasingly developed in dry and dust-prone geographies with high solar insolation, there is a critical need to analyze the impacts of PV installations on the resulting particulate matter (PM) concentrations, which have environmental and health impacts. This study is the first to quantify the impact of a utility-scale PV plant on PM concentrations downwind of the project site. Background, construction, and post-construction PM2.5 and PM10 (PM with aerodynamic diameters <2.5 and <10 μm, respectively) concentration data were collected from four beta attenuation monitor (BAM) stations over 3 yr. Based on these data, the authors evaluate the hypothesis that PM emissions from land occupied by a utility-scale PV installation are reduced after project construction through a wind-shielding effect. The results show that the (1) confidence intervals of the mean PM concentrations during construction overlap with or are lower than background concentrations for three of the four BAM stations; and (2) post-construction PM2.5 and PM10 concentrations downwind of the PV installation are significantly lower than the background concentrations at three of the four BAM stations. At the fourth BAM station, downwind post-construction PM2.5 and PM10 concentrations increased marginally by 5.7% and 2.6% of the 24-hr ambient air quality standards defined by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, respectively, when compared with background concentrations, with the PM2.5 increase being statistically insignificant. This increase may be due to vehicular emissions from an access road near the southwest corner of the site or a drainage berm near the south station. The findings demonstrate the overall environmental benefit of downwind PM emission abatement from a utility-scale PV installation in desert conditions due to wind shielding. With PM emission reductions observed within 10 months of completion of construction, post-construction monitoring of downwind PM levels may be reduced to a 1-yr period for other projects with similar soil and weather conditions.
Implications: This study is the first to analyze impact of a utility photovoltaic (PV) project on downwind particulate matter (PM) concentration in desert conditions. The PM data were collected at four beta attenuation monitor stations over a 3-yr period. The post-construction PM concentrations are lower than background concentrations at three of four stations, therefore supporting the hypothesis of post-construction wind shielding from PV installations. With PM emission reductions observed within 10 months of completion of construction, postconstruction monitoring of downwind PM levels may be reduced to a 1-yr period for other PV projects with similar soil and weather conditions.