Solar Power


China leads the world in deployment of solar power, with more than one-third of global solar capacity. At the end of 2018, China had roughly 175 GW of solar power.[26]

In 2018, 45% of the solar power capacity added globally was in China.[27]

China also leads the world in solar manufacturing, as it has for each of the last 10 years. In 2018, roughly two-thirds of global solar module production was in China. Chinese manufacturers held dominant positions throughout the solar supply chain.[28]

In 2018, solar power accounted for roughly 3% of China’s electricity generation and 9% of China’s power capacity. In December 2018, a 500 MW solar project in Qinghai became the first in China to sell electricity for less than the benchmark price for electricity from coal.[29]

Curtailment is a challenge for the Chinese solar power industry, although the situation has improved in the past few years. In 2018, solar power curtailment was roughly 3% nationally, with rates of 16% in Xinjiang and 10% in Gansu.[30]

Photovoltaic (PV) technologies dominate China’s solar industry, with roughly 99% of China’s solar power capacity. However several concentrating solar power projects are currently operational and at least 20 are in various stages of the development pipeline.[31]

China has excellent solar resources, especially in the western part of the country. (See map below.) However, air pollution may significantly reduce output from solar panels in some parts of China. One recent study estimated losses of 17%–35% in parts of eastern China, depending on how often PV panels are cleaned.[32]

Figure 9-4


The 13th Five-Year Plan establishes a goal of 153.6 GW of solar capacity in China by 2020. The plan sets targets for individual provinces, including targets of 12 GW for Hebei, Shanxi and Inner Mongolia.[34]

China has provided feed-in tariffsfor solar power since at least 2011. Those rates have been declining steadily in recent years.[35]

On May 31, 2018, the Chinese government announced major changes to its solar policies. Allocations of generous feed-in tariffs were reduced and local governments were directed to shift most procurements to competitive auctions. The changes were seen as an effort to control the cost of solar subsidies (over $15 billion in 2017) and address overcapacity in power markets. This announcement has been followed with a series of orders and circulars to move the solar power industry away from feed-in tariffs and towards an auction system. (See discussion at note 6 above.)[36]

For 2019, feed-in tariff rates for most solar projects rates range from RMB 0.4 to 0.55 (roughly US$0.06 to $0.08) per kWh, depending on location. Feed-in tariffs will be phased out starting in 2021.[37]

China’s Five-Year Plan for Solar Energy Development contains specific goals for solar panel innovation (including commercialized monocrystalline silicon cells with an efficiency of at least 23% and commercialized multicrystalline silicon cells with an efficiency of at least 20%). The Chinese government spends heavily on research and development for solar power to help meet these and other goals. Much of this funding comes through the Ministry of Science and Technology (MOST).[38]

The Chinese government has run a solar Top Runner auction program since 2015. The program rewards high-efficiency, low-cost solar panels with subsidies and construction quotas.[39]

China Development Bank and other Chinese policy banks have played an important role in providing debt capital to Chinese solar manufacturers and developers. This was especially important in helping the Chinese solar manufacturing industry grow in the years following the financial crisis of 2008, when many solar manufacturers in other countries were unable to secure access to capital.[40]


[26] IRENA, Renewable Capacity Statistics 2019at p.24; REN21, “Renewables 2019 Global Status Report”at table R17; China Energy Portal, “2018 Electricity & Other Energy Statistics”(January 25, 2019).

[27] IRENA, Renewable Capacity Statistics 2019at p. 24; REN21, “Renewables 2019 Global Status Report”at table R17.

[28] REN21, “Renewables 2019 Global Status Report,”Chapter 3 Market and Industry Trends, Solar Photovoltaics at note 177.

[29] “Two solar power bases launched in northwestern China,”Xinhua (December 29, 2018).

[30] National Energy Administration, Photovoltaic power generation statistics for 2018(March 19, 2019); China Energy Portal, 2018 National PV Statistics(March 19, 2019). See generally Lori Bird, Jaquelin Cochran and Xi WangWind and Solar Energy Curtailment, NREL (2014) at p.iv, (“Curtailment is a reduction in the output of a generator from what it could otherwise produce given available resources, typically on an involuntary basis”).

[31] “Concentrating Solar Power Projects in China,”National Renewable Energy Lab (accessed August 22, 2019); “China concentrated solar power pilot projects’ development,”HeliosCSP (accessed August 22, 2019).

[32] Ken Kingery, “Air Pollution Casts Shadow Over Solar Energy Production,”Duke Pratt School of Engineering (June 26, 2017).

[33] “Solar resource maps of China,” (accessed August 22, 2019).

[34] NEA, “国家能源局关于可再生能源发展“十三五”规划实施的指导意见” [Guiding opinions on the implementation of the “13th FYP” for renewable energy development](July 29, 2017); NDRC, “可再生能源发展“十三五”规划” [Renewable Energy 13rd Five-Year-Plan] (December 2016).

[35] NDRC, “Circular on improving the Feed-in Tariff mechanism for PV power generation(April 28, 2019); NDRC, “关于完善陆上风电光伏发电上网标杆电价政策的通知” [Notice on Improving the Pricing Policy for Onshore Wind Power and On-Grid Solar Photovoltaic Power Prices] (December 2016); NEA, “国家发展改革委员会关于完善太阳能光伏发电上网电价政策的通知” [Notice on Improving the Pricing Policy for On-Grid Solar Photovoltaic Power Prices](August 2011).

[36] NDRC, Ministry of Finance and NEA, “Notice on matters relevant to PV power generation in 2018”(May 31, 2018); REN21, “Renewables 2019 Global Status Report,”Chapter 3 Market and Industry Trends, Solar Photovoltaics at notes 25-28.

[37] NDRC, “Circular on improving the Feed-in Tariff mechanism for PV power generation”(April 28, 2019); NDRC, “关于完善陆上风电光伏发电上网标杆电价政策的通知” [Notice on Improving the Pricing Policy for Onshore Wind Power and On-Grid Solar Photovoltaic Power Prices] (December 2016).

[38] Jeffrey Ball, Dan Reicher, Xiaojing Sun and Caitlin Pollock, The New Solar System, Stanford Steyer-Taylor Center (March 2017), pp.96–99.

[39] REN21, “Renewables 2019 Global Status Report,”Chapter 3 Market and Industry Trends, Solar Photovoltaicsat notes 25-28; Ian Clover, “China’s Top Runner Program spurring n-type solar cell development, report finds,”PV Magazine(February 5, 2018); China Top-Runner Program—2017-2020,"ClimateScope (accessed August 22, 2019).

[40] REN21, Renewables 2019 Global Status Report, Chapter 3 Market and Industry Trends, Solar Photovoltaics at p.55.

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