China surges further ahead in solar power production

China also maintained its no. 1 status for having the world’s most powerful supercomputer

China's state-run news site said that the nation has pressed further ahead of other countries in its deployment of solar electricity, adding an additional 20 billion watts (20GW) in the first half of this year alone, according to a Reuters report.

The 20GW installation figure beats most analysts' expectations by a large margin, according to Mohit Anand, a senior analyst for Global Solar Markets with GTM Research.

Anand cautioned that China's National Energy Agency (NEA) has yet to come out with "official" solar capacity figures, but he said he has no reason to doubt the news agency report.

China's NEA plans to set a goal of adding 20GW annually through 2020, according to Xinhua, the government's official news agency.

The NEA predicts that the nation's solar power capacity will hit 150 gigawatts by 2020. This year, it is expected to install 23GW to 25GW, according to Anand.

In 2015, China overtook Germany to become the world's leader in solar power production, Xinhua has reported.

Through 2015, the U.S. had been in fourth place, with 26GW compared to China's 44GW, according to Anand. Germany had installed 38GW as of the end of last year. This year, the U.S. is expected to install about 14.5GW of solar capacity, Anand said.

China's solar panel manufacturers lead the world in production. By boosting its domestic market, China cuts its reliance on foreign markets, which is particularly important in light of recent trade conflicts with the U.S. and Europe.

"It's a self-fulfilling prophecy," Anand said.

Photovoltaic module production also increased to 37.8% in the first half of the year to 27GW of capacity, according to the China Photovoltaic Industry Association.

Cheap government capital and access to supply chains, has led Chinese module manufacturers to significantly drive down costs, according to Tyler Ogden, a solar analyst with Lux Research.

"Having local manufacturing capacity also leads to cheaper installations costs due to shortened supply chains,” Ogden said. "However it’s important to note that despite the reports of China’s top position, systems are subject to curtailment and some operators have reported delays in feed-in tariff payments. Although the numbers are impressive, China still has problems to tackle."

Additionally, like the U.S., China has set itself aggressive greenhouse gas reduction goals.

One reason for the unexpected uptick in utility-grade solar capacity in the first half of 2016 was that China's "feed-in tariff" was set to decrease for projects not completed by June 30.

Feed-in tariffs are incentives for solar installations because they guarantee a set price per gigawatt will be paid by utilities for solar power produced. In China's case, the tariff dropped from 15 cents to 12 cents-to-13.5 cents per kilowatt hour of solar electricity depending on the region of a province.

Like states in the U.S., some Chinese provinces produce more solar power than others because they are in sunnier regions. The ones that produce more have lower feed-in tariff rates.

China's move to increase its solar power generation comes at the same time the country is pressing ahead in other high-tech areas, including supercomputing.

China maintained its first-place ranking among the world's top supercomputers makers, according to the 47th edition of the TOP500 list.

China's Sunway TaihuLight supercomputer is the new No. 1 system, with 93 petaflop/s (quadrillions of calculations per second).

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Lucas Mearian

Computerworld (US)
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