China leads the world in renewables

 By Peter Ward

The latest report from the International Energy Agency on renewable energy highlights one nation’s efforts above others, and the country in question may surprise a few people…

China’s staggering turnaround in renewable energies has shocked the world, especially at a time when other major nations, like the U.S., have turned their back on the global mission to produce more clean energy.

China’s solar power

China leads the world in solar generation by a staggering amount, according to the IEA report. A decade ago the country had just 100 megawatts of solar photo voltaic capacity installed. By the end of last year, it had increased that number by nearly 800 times, to more than 77 gigawatts.
That growth in building solar capacity isn’t expected to slow down any time soon. In a call to reporters, one of the authors of the report, Dr. Paolo Frankl, said: “In one year, China will install the equivalent of the total history of solar development in Germany.”
The report, called Renewables 2017, argued that renewables are now a serious force in the world, and reveals that 164 gigawatts of renewable energy capacity came online in 2016 around the world. That was more than triple the amount of new gas-fired power plants and more than twice the number of coal plants.
Solar PV was the major driver of this increase, adding 74 GW of new capacity last year, a 50 percent increase from 2015. China alone accounted for half of that growth.

Solar PV power generation in Hong Kong (WiNG, Wikimedia)

Quickening growth

The IEA increased its expectations for solar growth next year by one third. “This revision is driven by continuous technology cost reductions and unprecedented market dynamics in China as a consequence of policy changes,” the Paris-based organization wrote in the report.
In January 2017, China announced it was cancelling 103 coal power plants that were being planned or had already begun construction, and at the same time announced a huge $360 billion was to be invested in renewable energy by the end of the decade. The decision was partly made because of the smog affecting some Chinese cities, and also due to a feared of wasted capacity. China has set a target for renewable energy sources to account for around half of all new electricity generation by 2020.
The growth of renewables in China is also bringing down prices for the energy all over the world. “Along with new policies that spur competition in several other countries, this Chinese dynamic has led to record-low announced prices of solar PV and onshore wind, which are now comparable or even lower than new-built fossil fuel alternatives,” the IEA report read.

READ MORE: China’s natural gas opportunity by Peter Ward

about the author
Peter Ward
Business and technology reporter based in New York. MA in Business Journalism at Columbia University Journalism School 2013. Five years experience reporting in the U.S., the U.K., and the Middle East.