The world’s largest consumer of electricity, China also has recently become the world’s biggest producer of photovoltaic cells for solar power. Recent strides are not without challenges, though, and the country remains far from being fossil-fuel free.
2017 Production Surges
In the first half of 2017, China’s solar industry produced 25.9 percent more solar panels than it had during the first half of 2017, for a total of 34 gigawatts this year versus 27 gigawatts during the same period in 2016, according to the China Photovoltaic Industry Association (CPIA).Official data published by the National Energy Administration (NEA) shows that 24.4 gigawatts of solar panels were installed during the first six months of the year. This represents an annual increase of 9% from the prior year. In June alone, 13.5 gigawatts were added, representing more than 55% of the entire total for the first half of 2017. Experts predict that China’s production capacity will reach 60 gigawatts in 2017; last year, capacity reached 48 gigawatts. The continued decrease in production costs — the average cost to manufacture a solar module is less than $0.12 per watt –contributes to the increased production. China’s increased production also results from strong local demand as well as from continued foreign demand, particularly from the United States.
Installed Solar Capacity and Curtailment of Solar Utilization
As of the end of June 2017, China had 101.82 gigawatts of installed solar photovoltaic capacity. However, utilization rates are only at 85 percent on average. And though the national curtailment rate was 37 billion kilowatt-hours as of the end of the first half, representing a reduction of 4.5 percent from the same time the previous year, some regions of the country still show high curtailment solar rates. Underutilization especially is high in the northwestern provinces of Xinjiang and Gansu, whereas much as 30 percent of available solar power is failing to meet the grid.
China’s continued surge in solar energy panel production is threatened, though, by more than just problems with underutilization. An ongoing trade dispute with the United States and a petition to impose tariffs threaten to make the U.S. market hostile to Chinese solar energy products.
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