China's solar capacity expected to double by the end of 2026

The Asian country is set to exceed 100,000 gigawatts in three years, Rystad Energy says

A worker producing photovoltaic modules used for solar panels in Huaian city, eastern China. AFP
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China’s solar capacity is expected to double in the next three years, driven by government-led initiatives.

Total solar photovoltaic (PV) capacity in the world’s second-largest economy is projected to cross 1,000 gigawatts by the end of 2026, compared with 500 gigawatts by the end of this year, Rystad Energy said in a report on Tuesday.

In 2023, new capacity is expected to exceed 150 gigawatts, nearly doubling the 87 gigawatts installed last year, the Norway-based consultancy said.

“China’s national programme to build our solar capacity, launched in June 2021, has led to a significant boost in large-scale projects,” said Yicong Zhu, senior renewables and power analyst at Rystad Energy.

“Although most distributed PV systems are installed on rooftops, not all of them are used for residential purposes,” she said.

“Around two-thirds of the distributed PV capacity in China is utilised by the commercial and industrial sectors and these projects can vary from tens to more than 100 megawatts.”

Currently, China’s installed solar capacity represents about 40 per cent of global total, with the US in second place, accounting for about 12 per cent.

Rystad expects US solar installations to increase with incentives from the Inflation Reduction Act, reaching 209 gigawatts in 2026, constituting 11 per cent of the global capacity.

The IRA, enacted last year, offers a series of tax incentives on wind, solar, hydropower and other renewables, as well as a push towards electric vehicle ownership.

It could spur about $3 trillion of investment in renewable energy technology, according to Goldman Sachs.

In China, large-scale energy projects are located in the country’s north-west region where solar and land resources are abundant.

However, power demand centres are in China’s south and eastern regions, where cities like Beijing, Shenzhen and Shanghai are located.

“The nation has made efforts to construct and expand its high-voltage transmission networks to move renewable power from areas rich in resources to demand centres,” Rystad said.

“However, there is limited land availability and costs are high in coastal regions, so large-scale utility solar PV developments are not feasible.”

Distributed solar energy, systems typically sited on rooftops, are a more “viable” alternative and China’s more populous provinces have experienced a “notable” increase in the advancement of such projects this year, Rystad said.

Among these provinces, Henan took the lead, with 7.6 gigawatts of new solar PV installations, of which 98 per cent were distributed solar PV. Shandong followed closely with 6.8 gigawatts of new installations.

China, which has set provincial-specific solar installation targets, plans to install 443 gigawatts of new capacity by the end of 2025.

As of June 30, a total of 206 gigawatts has been installed, achieving a completion rate of nearly 47 per cent, the consultancy said.

Investment in clean energy is set to hit $1.7 trillion this year, outpacing spending on fossil fuels, as countries look to address potential energy shortages, according to the International Energy Agency.

Global energy investment is projected to reach $2.8 trillion in 2023, with more than 60 per cent allocated to clean technology including renewables, electric vehicles, nuclear power and heat pumps, the Paris-based agency said in its World Energy Investment report in May.

Updated: September 13, 2023, 5:36 AM