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China Will Install More Solar This Year Than The U.S. Ever Has

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"China Will Install More Solar This Year Than The U.S. Ever Has"

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Company executives look at thin-film solar panels developed by MiaSole before a press conference held at the headquarters of Hanergy Group in Beijing, China, in 2013.

Company executives look at thin-film solar panels developed by MiaSole before a press conference held at the headquarters of Hanergy Group in Beijing, China, in 2013.

CREDIT: AP/ Alexander F. Yuan

According to new numbers released by the Chinese government, China added 3.3 gigawatts of solar capacity in the first six months of the year ending June 30, marking a 100 percent increase over the same period last year. That brings China’s total solar supply to 23 gigawatts — 13 shy of the country’s goal of installing 35 by the end of 2015. In 2013 China installed around 11.3 gigawatts of solar, representing 37 percent of global growth, and the bulk of this year’s installations will come in the second half of the year. The agency vows to install 13 gigawatts of solar power capacity this year, which would mean an average of more than one gigawatt a month for the rest of the year — an amount equatable to South Korea’s total installed capacity as of 2013.

Australia, one of the most sunny, potentially solar power-friendly countries on Earth, has just about 3.2 gigawatts of total solar installed capacity. The U.S. has over 12 gigawatts of solar capacity installed. Many countries are adding solar capacity so quickly that it can be hard to find the most up-to-date numbers. Solar accounted for 29 percent of all new global electricity generation capacity added in 2013, up from just 10 percent in 2012, making it the second-largest source of new electricity generating capacity after natural gas.

According to China’s National Energy Administration, utility-scale photovoltaic power plants accounted for 2.3 gigawatts of the new capacity with distributed projects comprising the remaining gigawatt. China is intent on growing domestic distributed solar capacity and the government also announced that there will likely be forthcoming policies to encourage the installation of panels on rooftops and other distributed locations. In an effort to reach a goal of eight megawatts of distributed solar capacity, the NEA could do things like ask local planners to add more distributed solar projects for nearby customers and offer subsidies to for solar investments on buildings like school and hospitals.

“China’s finding a way to prop up local demand by providing additional incentives for residential and commercial solar — and the focus is going to be on the distributed side,” Angelo Zino, an analyst at S&P Capital IQ in New York, told Reuters.

Pollution from fossil fuel power plants is one of the drivers of China’s quest to ramp up solar power. Just this week China announced that the country’s smog-plagued capital, Beijing, would ban the use of coal by the end of 2020. The official Xinhua News Agency said coal accounted for a quarter of Beijing’s energy consumption in 2012 and 22 percent of the fine particles floating in the city’s air. However the focus on Beijing, where there is a lot of global attention and domestic pushback, does not mean China’s overall coal consumption will diminish — in fact it is still expected to soar.

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