China: A solar power giant

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While the US appears to be renewing its interest in fossil fuels under the aegis of its president, in China renewable energy is steaming ahead.

The media recently reported the launch of an offshore solar farm near Huainan with a capacity to generate 40 megawatts. That’s enough power to cover the needs of about 15 000 homes.

Given the size of the Chinese population, estimated to be around 1.3 billion people, that’s clearly a drop in the ocean. However – and here’s the takeaway message – this initiative demonstrates the country’s desire and determination to become a major player in this new era of renewable energy.

China renewable energy: exponential growth

According to projections in its latest five-year plan, between now and 2022, China intends to increase its total solar and wind power production capacity to more than 300 gigawatts. That’s equivalent to the output from 350 nuclear reactors. In 2015, power generated from solar farms amounted to only 50 gigawatts.

The plan is to increase production to 110 gigawatts by the close of 2018. That will require considerable effort, in line with the country’s gargantuan appetite to continue its development while protecting the environment and participating in the fight against global warming.

By comparison, the US will be generating only 41 gigawatts of solar power by that time. For the purpose of illustration, among the Chinese planners’ projects is the construction of a 46 km solar farm in the autonomous region of Ningxia which will feature six million photovoltaic cells, cost USD 2.3 billion to build and generate two gigawatts of power.

China renewable energy: opportunities galore

There’s no doubt that the Chinese economy, from the developer to the various subcontractors, will benefit from these opportunities. It is also likely that China will be in a position to gain a considerable share of the market in this globalised sector which, given the urgent need to find sustainable solutions to combat global warming, should grow significantly in the coming years.

This growth will most likely be bolstered by the steady downward trend of the cost of photovoltaic components, which has fallen by 40% since 2010. When substantial economies of scale feed off the sharp rise in demand for these components, the result looks set to be a self-sustaining virtuous cycle.

Written on 01/12/2017

Alexandre Jeanblanc

Investment Specialist, SRI

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