China Is on an Epic Solar Power Binge

  • 2016-03-25
  • MIT Technology Review

It’s worth taking a minute to appreciate the sheer scale of what China is doing in solar right now. In 2015, the country added more than 15 gigawatts of new solar capacity, surpassing Germany as the world’s largest solar power market. China now has 43.2 gigawatts of solar capacity, compared with38.4 gigawatts in Germany and 27.8 in the United States.

According to new projections, it seems that trend is going to continue. Under its 13th Five Year Plan, China will nearly triple solar capacity by 2020, adding 15 to 20 gigawatts of solar capacity each year for the next five years, according to Nur Bekri, director of the National Energy Administration. That will bring the country’s installed solar power to more than 140 gigawatts. To put that in context, world solar capacity topped 200 gigawatts last year and is expected to reach 321 gigawatts by the end of 2016.

Of course, China is also the world’s largest carbon emitter, it burns more coal than any other nation, and its solar capacity is only a small fraction of its total energy portfolio. What’s more, capacity does not always equate to generation: the National Energy Administration estimates that nearly one-third of solar capacity in Gansu province, and more than one-quarter in Xinjiang, was idle last year.