China sets world record on solar power installations
Figures indicating the installation of 12GW of solar power last year show 'astonishing' scale of the market, with experts forecasting further growth
China installed a record 12GW of solar power last year, doubling its rate of solar installations, according to preliminary figures. This is more than has ever been installed by any country in a single year and means that the mainland installed three times more solar energy last year than the total British solar capacity.
No country has ever added more than 8GW of solar power in one year before, according to an analysis by Li Shuo of Greenpeace East Asia. It was also more solar than China had installed in all the years prior to last year put together, said Li.
The preliminary figure is estimated by Bloomberg New Energy Finance (BNEF) which tracks energy figures globally. BNEF said the figure may even be 14GW due to a rush to install solar energy towards the end last year due to a feed-in tariff for large photovoltaic (PV) projects that ended on December 31. A final figure was expected next month.
Other estimates have put the figure lower, but these could also rise due to the end-of-year increase. The Chinese Renewable Energy Industries Association put the figure at 10.7GW and mainland media has quoted industry sources putting the figure at least 9.5GW.
Li explained that a lot of figures were based on the first 10 or 11 months of the year with a projection for December. "There was definitely a rush in the last two months of the year in ramping up solar installation capacity, " he said.
Jenny Chase, head of solar analysis at BNEF, said: "The 2013 figures show the astonishing scale of the Chinese market, now the sleeping dragon has awoken. PV is becoming ever cheaper and simpler to install, and China's government has been as surprised as European governments by how quickly it can be deployed in response to incentives."
In total, China added just over 100GW of new power generation capacity last year. According to BNEF figures, this is larger than the entire electricity capacity of the UK or South Korea. Coal still remains China's main power source with 39.7GW coal-fired capacity installed last year. Hydro power saw the next largest increase, with 30.5GW added, while wind saw 14.1GW added.
Increasing its solar capacity is part of China's plan to increase the amount of renewable energy it uses as it attempts to move away from coal as its primary power source. Li said that while coal still accounted for the majority of China's power, it was reducing as the country's overall energy appetite reduces.
The high levels of air pollution which plague many of China's cities is putting pressure on the government to reduce coal consumption and in some of the worst-hit areas there is now a ban on new coal power plants.
An issue in China with renewable energy relates to connection to the grid. For example, some wind farms in remote areas of the country remain unconnected.
According to a Bloomberg spokesman, about 30 per cent of the solar power installed last year was still waiting connection. However they added that most solar developers were not worried and it was only a matter of time before connection occurs.
Li said the problem of connecting to the grid "is being resolved in quite a big way over the past two years. The government is offering a financial incentive for the grid to expand their network".
Most of China's solar installations are large-scale projects based in the sunny western provinces of Gansu , Xinjiang and Qinghai . However, China is planning a push for next year to increase the number of rooftop installations.
The Beijing government is targeting up to 14GW of additional solar capacity this year, 60 per cent of which they are aiming to be from rooftop installations rather than large-scale projects.