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Published on March 27th, 2016 | by Guest Contributor


China Plans To Triple Solar PV Capacity By 2020

March 27th, 2016 by  

Originally published on Sustainnovate.

China’s National Energy Administration: Plan Is To Triple Solar PV Capacity By 2020

China is aiming to triple its solar photovoltaic (PV) generation capacity by the year 2020, bringing it up to 143 gigawatts (GW), as newly revealed by the country’s National Energy Administration.

The plan is to add between 15 GW and 20 GW of new solar PV generation capacity a year until 2020, according to the National Energy Administration’s Director Nur Bekri. Such a plan calls for the investment of around $368 billion in various grid infrastructure (smart grids, ultra-high voltage grids, etc) during the same period of time — in order to smooth the transition away from coal-fired power plants.

Considering that solar PV made up an only very negligible portion of China’s overall energy mix as recently as 2011, the transition seen over recent years has been quite impressive — with the company even managing to become the top solar PV market in the world in 2015 (in terms of cumulative installed capacity), taking the mantle from Germany. As just reported, China accounted for $103 billion of the $286 billion invested globally in renewable energy in 2015.

But in order for the country to truly move away from fossil fuels and address its greenhouse gas and air pollution problems, the transform needs to be sped up further — which is where the new plans come in.

With the country possessing 43.2 GW of solar PV capacity in 2015, the plan is calling essentially for the development of around 100 GW of new solar PV capacity in just a few years, in a single market. The achievement of this goal will be helped along and made more manageable by the fact that China accounted for a majority (around 70%) of the global solar PV panel output in 2015 — when it produced around 43 GW worth of solar PV panels.

Hollywood actor and sometimes climate activist Leonardo DiCaprio recently commented on this move, amongst others, while promoting a movie in Beijing earlier this week, when he stated: “I think that China has made radical movements forward as far as alternative energy and ways to be sustainable. I really think that China can be the hero of the environmental movement. They can be the hero of the climate change movement.”

Image by Aapo Haapanen (some rights reserved)

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  • neroden

    This is on the low-end estimate of what is likely. Solar production is doubling every 3 years at *worst*, which means tripling in 4.5 years, which puts us in 2020.

    The safe way to make a 5-year plan: plan to do what everyone already knows is going to happen! 🙂

  • vensonata

    Both the U.S. and China need to ramp up to 56 Gw PV per year for the next 20 years in order to provide about 40% of clean electricity from PV to their respective countries. They are the two largest emitters of Carbon and the two largest users of electricity. They have virtually identical needs. Per Capita though, China use 25% of the electricity of the U.S. The total manufacturing capacity world wide for PV is about 50GW right now, so obviously there needs to be a quintupling of factories in the next 5 or 6 years to seriously address climate change. Can they do it?

    • Mike Dill

      I think India will will be a big player in this also, as they have similar or worse issues with air and water pollution, and water availability.

    • Philip W

      Sure they can. The question is will they do it? I think so.

  • Shiggity

    The key variable in going from coal -> solar pv is water usage.

    Coal is one of the highest water usage power generations per watt, solar pv is one of the lowest.

    Why all the hype around batteries, onshore wind, and solar pv? They don’t require fresh water assets to work.

  • Ivor O’Connor

    That’s only a 30% increase per year. Not the 80% increase per year we see with Solar City. So it is quite doable but I expected more from China.

    • Freddy D

      For China’s economy, this is indeed pocket change. Hopefully they’ll maintain that tripling every 4 years for some time to come. China really needs 1,500 or 2,000 GW of PV and similar wind. Would be great if they set targets like that with exponential growth through 2020, 2025, 2030.

      • Steven F

        According to wikipedia (which references mostly official statistics) in 2015 china installed 15GW of solar PV last year alone. For wind they in 2015 they installed 23GW. And since 2007 they have installed 35.4GW of hydro. That is more renewables than anyone else in the world. furthermore the amount installed goes up every year since 2000. Based on the trends of the last two years (they are already in exponential growth) 2016 should see the installation of 20GW of solar and about 30GW of wind.

        • Shane 2

          Hydro schmydro. My homeland generates 80% of its electricity from renewable sources. Is that impressive? Nope. Most of it is hydro and that is due to the fact that the hydrology and topology available make it possible to generate lots of despatchable hydro power at a cost cheaper than coal. If it wasn’t for the conservation movement’s war against hydro in the 1970s and beyond, my homeland would be generating a lot more hydro power. Solar and wind power generated as a fraction of total electrical generation are a good way of comparing commitment of nations to a renewable future than including cheap despatchable hydro.

          Another point worth making is that GW-hours per annum is a better measure of the contribution that various forms of generation provide than installed GW values. 10 GW of installed hydro is likely to produce a lot more electricity in a year than 10 GW of installed PV.

          • Bob_Wallace

            Try looking at the cost of new hydro per kWh vs. new solar per kWh. That way you don’t have to worry about capacity factor and variable operating costs.

    • JamesWimberley

      Yes, it’s a cautious target, seeing that by some accounts 17 GW were installed in 2015. The caution may be justified by the constraints. There is more or less unlimited land available in Western China, but that is remote and constrained by grid capacity. The policy has recently been to pivot to distributed solar in the populous eastern provinces, but this has not worked well. Large-scale distributed solar requires cutting the red tape that reflects a Confucian nanny-state bureaucratic tradition two millennia older than Marx. If the Chinese fix this, and the pressure to do so must be immense, the way will be open again to much higher growth rates.

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