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A 31% Drop in New Solar Installations in China Despite New Record for Global Green Energy Installations

published: 2020-04-24 18:30

An inspection on the installed capacity of renewable energy in recent years has revealed its exponential growth. According to the data provided by the International Renewable Energy Agency (IRENA), a record high of 2/3 of new power generation equipment in 2019 was of renewable energy, and renewable energy is currently providing more than 1/3 of global electricity, which sets another record.

The global installed capacity of renewable energy in 2019 arrived at 2,563.8GW, of which hydroelectricity remained to be the largest at 1,310.9GW, and coming second was wind power at 622.7GW. Despite standing in third place, the growth speed of solar power has been accelerating by having reached 580GW, and it occupied 55% of new installed capacity in 2019, which was distributed throughout Asian countries, including China, Japan, India, and South Korea. The installed capacity of solar power in Asia has reached 330GW.

Regarding European and American countries, the installed capacity of solar power in Europe had reached 138.2GW at the end of 2019, with Germany still being the biggest market at 49.9GW, followed by Italy at 20.9GW, and coming third was the UK at 13.3GW. The US had an installed capacity of 60.5GW, whereas its neighbors Canada and Mexico had a 3.3GW and 4.8GW respectively.

Although the new installed capacity of green energy in 2019 was slightly reduced to 176GW from 179GW in 2018, and that the new installed capacity of solar power did not break through 100GW from its mere 98GW, the growth rate for the installed capacity of renewable energy managed to arrive at 7.6%. Simultaneously, IRENA also discovered that the new installed capacity of fossil fuels has declined, and countries in Europe and Americas are successively terminating plans of fossil fuel power station and retiring old power plants, though fossil fuels are still the primary energy and electricity sources in Asia, Middle East, and Africa.

So why did the installed capacity of solar power reduce in 2019? Perhaps it had something to do with the decline in installed capacity of solar power in Asia.

China is currently marching toward unsubsidized renewable energy, and has been decreasing subsidy since mid-2018. The data from Asia Europe Clean Energy (Solar) Advisory indicated that China only had an additional 30.11GW of solar power in 2019, which was a 32% reduction compared to 2018, and of which the capacity of small-scale solar projects had a decline of 41%, arriving at merely 12.2GW, whereas solar power for public services also diminished by 23%, landing at 19.71GW.

The “Affordable Grid Parity Project” co-published by the National Development and Reform Commission and the National Energy Administration in 2019 released a total capacity of 20.76GW, consisting of 4.51GW of wind power, 14.78GW of solar power, and 1.47GW of distributed energy, though the rate of achievement was not considered high. As pointed out by AECEA, out of the released solar capacity of 14.78GW, only 2GW was constructed. At the same time, the 22.78GW FIT subsidized bidding in China only led to a construction of 10GW. The team at AECEA believes that the current predicament in China regarding inadequate capacity of renewable energy is caused by administrative, managerial, technical, and financial factors.

Nevertheless, the installed capacity of solar power in China is still growing continuously, with a total installed capacity reaching 204.3GW at the end of 2019, which increased 17% compared to 2018. The data of AECEA revealed that Shandong, the number one province in solar power, has had a 16.19GW of installed capacity in solar in 2019. Provinces from the top 10 list have all installed more than 10GW of solar capacity, occupying 61% of the total installed capacity in China. In comparison, the installed capacity of solar in Beijing, capital city of China with exorbitant property prices, is relatively low, recording at barely 510MW.

Although the capacity is significant (which it is), occupying 10% of power generation from energy in China, the power generation from solar power in 2019 was only 224TWh, with a power generation proportion of merely 3.1%. As an intermittent energy source, the installed capacity of solar power also serves as a test on grid elasticity and the comprehensiveness of energy storage. Take Tibet for example, the region wasted 24.1% of solar power last year.

(Cover photo source: Flickr/BlackRockSolar CC BY 2.0)

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