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Published on December 13th, 2012 | by Zachary Shahan


China’s New Solar Target: 40 GW By 2015 (8 Times More Than Its Initial 5 GW Target)

December 13th, 2012 by  

It’s been pretty astounding to watch China essentially double its 2015 solar target three times in the past year and a half or so. Each step of the way, what’s clear is that solar power keeps getting more and more competitive… fast.

solar energy investment china

Image Credit: China & solar panel via Shutterstock

Before this week, China’s latest 2015 solar target increase was in July, when the official target was brought up to 21 GW. Then, just a couple months later (in September), it was rumored that China was going to increase the target to 40 GW. Now, all the buzz is that’s finally happening.

Giles Parkinson of Renew Economy writes: “Talk out of China suggests that official bodies in that country are finally ready to lift their target for the deployment of solar to 40GW by 2015.”

He also cites this interesting stat: “Just 18 months ago, the 2015 target for 2015 was just 5GW. But more than that has been installed this year alone.” More than the initial target has been installed in 2012 alone. Pretty astounding, eh?

This is, for one, a sign of China’s tremendous focus on clean energy, as well as its tremendous overall economic and energy growth. But it’s also a sign that solar power has arrived. Solar has many benefits, and now that its price has dropped to a competitive rate in many places (and is still dropping), those benefits are catapulting it above competing options.

Here’s more from Giles on this week’s news:

“Deutsche Bank analysts noted that the updated forecast suggests that more than 10GW of solar will be installed in China in each of the next three years. Assuming that solar deployment will continue to increase rather than slow; that suggests a cumulative total of well over 100GW by 2020.

“On Tuesday, the government announced that the total amount of projects approved under the 2nd batch of its Golden Sun program was 2.8GW, well ahead of the 2GW expected, taking this year’s allocation to 4.5GW.”

Another key point noted in the Renew Economy piece was that oversupply of solar modules and solar module components (especially in China), which is partly triggered by cuts in solar feed-in tariffs in Europe, is further stimulating solar-friendly policies and deployment in the world’s largest country.

With the 2015 target increased from 5 GW to 10 GW in June 2011, from 10 GW to 15 GW in December 2011, from 15 GW to 21 GW in July 2012, and now from 21 GW to 40 GW, does anyone want to make a prediction what the 2015 target will be when Summer 2013 rolls around?

Putting 40 GW Into Perspective

As I did back in July, why don’t we put the current 41 GW target into a bit of perspective. At the end of 2011, the top 5 countries for total installed solar PV power capacity (and their capacity) were:

  1. Germany — 24.7 GW
  2. Italy — 12.8 GW
  3. Japan — 4.9 GW
  4. Spain — 4.4 GW
  5. USA — 4.4 GW

In other words, 41 GW of solar power is really a big deal.

US solar installations at the end of Q3 already broke the US record for previous years. That record? Nearly 2 GW. In total, 2012 installations are expected to hit about 3.2 GW, and that will bring cumulative US solar capacity to over 7 GW. That sounded like a lot on Tuesday, but China’s expected 4.5 GW this year definitely raises the bar.

And what about China’s 2020 target, which was 20 GW back when its 2015 target was 5 GW? We’ll have to wait and see.

Before closing off with this good news, here’s one more thing to consider: the 2015 target is simply a target, with the country expecting to surpass the target by a good amount. Let’s hope those expectations just keep on increasing.

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is tryin' to help society help itself (and other species) with the power of the typed word. He spends most of his time here on CleanTechnica as its director and chief editor, but he's also the president of Important Media and the director/founder of EV Obsession, Solar Love, and Bikocity. Zach is recognized globally as a solar energy, electric car, and energy storage expert. Zach has long-term investments in TSLA, FSLR, SPWR, SEDG, & ABB — after years of covering solar and EVs, he simply has a lot of faith in these particular companies and feels like they are good cleantech companies to invest in.

  • How much power 40 GW of solar will produce, compared to China’s electricity demand in 2015? If we assume a 15% capacity factor, 40 GW of solar PV should yield 52 TWh a year (40 x 24 x 365 x 15%).

    Platts tells us that China’s 2012 electricity consumption is expected to be 5 trillion kwh = 5 billion MWh = 5 million GWh = 5,000 TWh. This is growing by 6% a year, so that’s 6,000 TWh by 2015.

    If these numbers are true, the 52 TWh from solar will be less than 1% of China’s electricity usage. So we need at least a 20-fold increase in the solar goal to begin making any impact, and start closing down the coal fired power plants.

    • Bob_Wallace

      If China starts installing solar at the rate of a GW per month they will create a massive and efficient system of installing solar. Many gigawatts are likely to follow and increasing rates of installation. Higher volumes will likely drive down costs which will, in turn, accelerate installations.
      And at the same time China is installing a lot of wind.

      China is capping the amount of coal that can be burned per year. That’s going to put a lot of pressure behind installing more renewables.

      I think we’re at the very thin left hand side of an accelerating curve for renewables around the world. We, in the US, think there’s a lot of climate change denial getting in the way of progress but that junk is largely limited to our boarders. The rest of the world is, in general, some steps ahead of us and dropping prices will open the floodgates.

      • I’m with you 100%, Bob. For solar, we’re more than at the tin edge – the price reductions so have have been ahead of predictions. But this 40 GW = 1% number shows how far we need to go.

  • Ronald Brak

    And I see China is reducing it’s nuclear build out, cancelling all inland plants and reducing it’s 2020 target from 80 gigawatts to 50 to 60 gigawatts, and that’s assuming it won’t be cut again in the future.

    • Bob_Wallace

      Inland plants are likely going due to insufficient cooling water supplies.
      China has extensive agriculture needs and understands that climate change brings droughts.

      I’d bet that if we get cheap storage China will dial their nuclear builds down to zero. A nation run by engineers knows how to do math.

      • Ronald Brak

        Hmmm… Queensland is run by an engineer. And he dislikes both wind and solar, so I can’t say he’s doing the environment much good. But I do expect China’s engineers will contribute to further reductions in the cost of renewables.

    • harrywr2

      China’s 2020 target cut for nuclear simply takes into account that there were no nuclear starts for 18 months.

      If we assume a build rate of 8 GW per year and a 5 year build time then nothing starting after 2015 will be completed by 2020. So that gives us 3 years X 8 = 24 GW by 2020 beyond what was already ‘in progress’ prior to the Fukushima review.

      So 40GW + 24 GW = 64 GW.

      The Statement about inland nuclear was that no inland nuclear starts would be made until at least 2015. Secondary air cooling has been demonstrated successfully on fossil based plants. Instead of cooling towers a giant radiator gets built.

      Solar makes a good supplement for nuclear as solar is a good ‘seasonal’ peaker.

      • Bob_Wallace

        No, China’s nuclear target cut was a target cut.

        China decided to build no more inland reactors, only the planned ones along the coast where cooling water supplies are less problematic.

        China might set a new build goat following 2015, but they cut their 2015 goal.

        I’ll be surprised if China set high goals for future nuclear builds. I think China has figured out that building nuclear is not a good use of public money. If we get decent storage technology in the next few years I think we’ll look back at these last few years as China’s nuclear peak.

    • Where’d you see that info? Got a link? Remember them dialing back a year or more ago, but haven’t seen anything recently.

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