China’s Ministry of Industry and Information Technology (MIIT) has just issued a brief report on the state of the domestic solar photovoltaic (PV) industry in 2017. Data from MIIT show that every major section of the domestic solar supply chain recorded annual production increase for that year: polysilicon by 24.7% to 242,000 metric tons, wafers by 34.3% to 87 GW, cells by 33.3% to 68 GW, and modules by 31.7% to 76 GW.
China during 2017 was still the world’s leading solar producing country in terms of scale, with domestic companies contributing to more than 50% of the total production in every section of the global supply chain.
MIIT stated that countries worldwide are paying greater attention on the solar sector as they face growing challenges related to energy shortages and environmental pollution. As for China, MIIT pointed out that the country will continue to promote and manage its domestic solar industry as well as supporting its upgrade. The ultimate goal is to help Chinese solar companies advance so that they will be able to provide solutions belonging to the high-end and mid-range sections of the global value chain.
According to MIIT, China’s solar industry will be focusing on four major tasks in its next phase of development – achieving targets under the smart solar action plan, strengthening industry regulations, establishing a public service platform, and staying open to exchanges on the international market. Being open to exchanges specifically means that Chinese companies simultaneously “bring in” valuable ideas from abroad and “move out” to establish themselves overseas.
MIIT has recently announced an action plan to develop a smart solar industry during the 2018-2020 period. The action plan, along with other initiatives launched by MIIT, embody the implementation of “Made in China 2025”, which is a grand roadmap to transform the country’s manufacturing.
Making the domestic solar industry “smart” will mainly involve deepening the integration of manufacturing processes with information technologies such as big data, narrow band internet of things (NB-IoT), and artificial intelligence (AI). This integration is expected to produce innovative solar solutions for demonstration projects and various application fields (e.g. architecture, waterworks, agriculture, and poverty alleviation). Furthermore, the push toward a smart solar industry is expected to help form advanced manufacturing clusters of world-class status, thus fulfilling the aim of Made in China 2025.
With respect to regulations, MIIT will continue to update the official list of enterprises that conform to the rules and specification standards of the PV manufacturing industry. The state agency therefore will keep registering and inspecting domestic solar companies around the country, including those already on the list. The constant pressure from above is professedly to maintain an orderly industry that complies with the rules and promotes government policies.
The public service platform is also designed to foster transparency and efficiency. Once established, the platform will provide the information that can improve technology standards and benchmarking of products. This particular project is part of the efforts by MIIT to accelerate the development of an integrated and standardized technology system for the solar industry participants.
As for the task of maintaining openness for global exchanges, MIIT has recently emphasized the commitment to the approach that combines bringing in ideas from abroad and moving out to the global market. From the view of the Chinese government, this approach is necessary for putting into practice of not just the upgrading of manufacturing but also the “One Belt and One Road Initiative” (OBOR). Going forward, China’s solar strategy will continue to encompass the whole supply chain. With government support, Chinese solar companies will use resources in domestic and foreign markets to achieve breakthroughs in technology, branding, and business opportunities.
Nevertheless, trying to fit the development of the entire domestic solar industry into wider strategies such as Made in China 2025 and OBOR will be an enormous challenge for the government and the private sector. To have the domestic manufacturing sector join the global supply chain, China has been publicly advocating free flows of goods, capital, and information around the globe. Nevertheless, there have been pushbacks to this kind of activism. Just as the government encourages domestic companies to set up business and manufacturing ventures abroad under the right conditions, its various departments are also preparing to deal with the potential political fallouts and trade disputes.
(The credit of the photo at the top of the article goes to David Goehring via Flickr and falls under the license of CC BY 2.0.)