Future evolution of surface solar radiation and photovoltaic potential in Europe: investigating the role of aerosols (article)

Gutiérrez, C., Somot, S., Nabat, P., Mallet, M., Corre, L., van Meijgaard, E., … & Gaertner, M. Á. (2020). Future evolution of surface solar radiation and photovoltaic potential in Europe: investigating the role of aerosols. Environmental Research Letters15(3), 034035.


In recent decades, trends in photovoltaic (PV) technology deployment have shown an overall increase across the world. Comprehensive knowledge of the solar resource and its future evolution is demanded by the energy sector. Solar resource and PV potential have been estimated in several studies using both the global climate model (GCM) and regional climate model (RCM), revealing a GCM–RCM discrepancy in the projected change over Europe. An increase in surface solar radiation (SSR) (and therefore in PV potential production) is projected by GCMs, whereas most RCM simulations project a decrease in SSR over Europe. In this work, we investigate the role of aerosol forcing in RCMs as a key explaining factor of this inconsistency. The results show that RCM simulations including evolving aerosols agree with GCMs in the sign and amplitude of the SSR change over Europe for mid-21st century projections (2021–2050 compared to 1971–2000 for representative concentration pathway climate change scenario RCP8.5). The opposite signal is projected by the rest of the RCMs. The amplitude of the changes likely depends on the RCM and on its aerosol forcing choice. In terms of PV potential, RCMs including evolving aerosols simulate an increase, especially in summer for Central and Eastern Europe, with maximum values reaching +10% in some cases. This study illustrates the key role of the often-neglected aerosol forcing evolution in RCMs. It also suggests that it is important to be very careful when using the multi-model Coordinated Regional Climate Downscaling Experiment (CORDEX) projections for solar radiation and related variables, and argues for the inclusion of aerosol forcing evolution in the next generation of CORDEX simulations.

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