China added more new solar capacity than thermal capacity for the first time in 2017, and is set to drastically increase its solar installations – even as the Trump administration in the US continues its efforts to “save” the coal industry by slapping heavy penalty tariffs on solar imports.
Newly released data by China’s National Energy Administration (NEA) shows that in 2017 some 52.83GW of solar was installed in China – roughly equivalent to the total installed capacity of Australia’s entire grid.
This not only accounted for around half of all global solar installations in 2017, and a 68 per cent jump in its own solar installations, for the first time it exceeded the amount of new coal and gas (thermal) capacity in China, which amounted to 44GW for the year.
China-based analyst Frank Haugwitz, from the Asia Europe Clean Energy (Solar) Advisory Co, says solar in China has now reached 130GW, or 7.3 per cent of total national power generation capacity.
Overall, during 2017, China added in total 133 GW of power generation capacities including e.g. hydro 12.8 GW, thermal power 45.78 GW, and solar PV 52.83 GW.
“Basically for the first time, more clean, green, climate friendly solar PV power generation capacity was added compared to thermal power!” Haugwitz says.
There is also 163GW of wind capacity. Haugwitz predicts that by 2020, China will have installed 250GW of solar capacity.
Meanwhile, in the US, a long awaited announcement on tariffs confirmed that the Trump administration has slapped a penalty on imported solar panels. Analysts say they are intended as barriers to benefit U.S. solar panel manufacturers, but will hurt America’s renewable energy market.
“There’s widespread opposition to solar tariffs across the political and economic spectrum,” said John Rogers, senior energy analyst at the Union of Concerned Scientists.
“This issue has united conservatives and liberals unlike anything else I’ve seen during Mr. Trump’s presidency. Sadly, his decision today burdens states with greater economic costs and attempts to derail clean energy progress.”
The administration has approved tariffs as high as 30% on imported solar panels
, a bit lower than the 35 per cent per cent recommended last year by the US International Trade Commission. The tariffs will reduce in increments of 5 per cent and start at 15 per cent in the final year.
The first 2.5 GW of imported solar cells will be exempt from the tariff, and US producers such as First Solar and SunPower are expected to be beneficiaries, but not the whole US solar industry.
Deutsche Bank analysts said the utility-scale sector will be worse hit, and new projects could come to a halt, at least for a few years. The measures may only add around 3 per cent to the cost of residential and commercial solar.
Rogers noted that Trump has said his intention is to save jobs, “but the specifics show this decision is a job killer,” he said, suggesting that tens of thousands of jobs in the solar sector could be stamped out.
“The first year of tariffs is high enough to blunt the growth of solar energy in the U.S. and hurt domestic solar jobs, but the package is not nearly enough to give U.S. solar panel manufacturers the ill-conceived walls of protectionism they were looking for.
“Tens of thousands of jobs in the solar sector could be stamped out, and it could hurt momentum at a time when we need to massively ramp up clean energy to reduce carbon emissions.
“It’s clear this administration has no interest in reducing U.S. emissions. The states are going to have to pick up the slack by strengthening regional policies.”