Which country has more solar capacity than rest of world combined? | RenewEconomy

Which country has more solar capacity than rest of world combined?

For a little perspective let’s compare the global installed capacity of solar water heating (WH) and solar photovoltaics (PV).


Shrink That Footprint

In 2013 China installed a record 12GW of solar power capacity, considerably more than Germany ever has in one year.  I read stories about it all over the place.  It was big news for renewable energy watchers.

What I didn’t read in any of those stories was that in the same year China installed about 40 GW of solar water heating capacity. You see solar hot water may be quite boring, but it still owns solar power in terms of installed capacity.

The Other Solar Energy: Solar Hot Water

For a little perspective let’s compare the global installed capacity of solar water heating (WH) and solar photovoltaics (PV).


In the graph above the blue line shows the growth of global solar water heating in GWth.  The figures are only for glazed hot water systems from the Renewables 2013 Global Status Report.  By 2012 around 70% the 255 GWth of global capacity was installed China.  A testament to how cheaply China produces and installs solar hot water.

The red line shows the growth of solar PV.  The sharp growth in installed capacity since 2007 reflects falling costs and growing enthusiasm for solar PV around the world.  By 2012 total installed capacity was up to 100 GWe. You can see more about the data in our Top 10 Solar Countries post.

Although the scale is the same I’ve put the data for each on separate axes because thermal and electric capacity are not directly comparable.  But lets not let that spoil our fun for a minute or two.

Solar Hot Water is Big in China

Instead why don’t we compare Chinese solar hot water capacity to all the solar PV installed globally by the end of 2012.


That’s quite a chart isn’t it?

By the end of 2012 all the solar PV capacity in the world totaled about 100 GWe.  Meanwhile in China solar water heating capacity had reached roughly 178 GWth.  The Chinese are seriously loving their vacuum tubes!!

It gets better.  If you look at the combined capacity for solar water and photovoltaics China actually has about 20 GW more installed solar than the rest of the world combined.  So much for Germany leading the world in solar?!

Mixing thermal and electric?

Now . . . if you are a bit of an energy wonk you’ll have been twitching from the start that not only am I mixing thermal and electric capacity but that I’m also comparing capacity rather than energy generated.  Of course you’ve got a very good point, but I didn’t want to let that spoil the fun.

Lets deal with capacity first, for the whole world.  100 GWof the solar PV is good for about 110  TWh of electricity over a year.  In contrast 255 GWth of capacity produces about 220 TWhth of hot water.  So the amount of solar hot water energy produced globally is about double the amount of electric energy produced.

Now in terms of economic value it is clear  that a kWh of heating is worth less than a kWh of electricity.  How different that value is depends very much on the fuel displaced, the heating system efficiency and relative prices of local fuel and electricity.

All that aside, you’ve got to give it to the Chinese. That is a whole lot of cheap hot water!! It reminds me a little of their 200 million electric bikes no one knows about.


Source: Shrink That Footprint. Reproduced with permission.

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  1. Pedro 7 years ago

    The Chinese are proving to be the great climate change hope for the rest of the world. The Chinese deserve to dominate the RE sector and will more than likely dominate the lithium battery storage sector as well when they figure out how to drive prices down.

  2. Chatteris 7 years ago

    Imagine the possibilities for that tiny ‘rest of the world’ (ROW) slice of the graph – hot, highly populated places like India, Egypt, Indonesia, Central and South America, Sub-Saharan Africa…

  3. Simon Baird 7 years ago

    Hi Lindsay

    Great article, as a manufacturer and distributor of Air Source Heat Pump water heaters (made under our deign licence in China) I know the Australian hot water market better then most and have some input that might be relevant to this discussion in terms of our domestic market

    Firstly it is interesting to see that just days after the death of car manufacturing in Australia with the decision by Toyota to close it’s operation, we start seeing in the press calls for higher vehicle emissions standards. There is actually a link between car manufacturing in Australia and hot water manufacturing in Australia. We have substantially lagged behind every other developed nation on car emissions standards, in fact we don’t even have car emission standards why? Because the cars made in Australia tend to be large 6 cylinder highly inefficient vehicles. We don’t have emissions standards because the majority of cars we make in Australia wouldn’t meet them.

    Now the same thing is happening in our locally manufactured hot water industry. In 2007 at the COAG meeting all state and territory governments (Tasmania expected) committed to the “phase out of electric hot water systems” in favour of more less emission intensive alternatives being Gas, Solar, Heat pumps. Over the next 5 years these commitments were implemented in some form or another, although no state reached the point of actually banning electric systems. However in the last year or so these laws have all but been abandoned in NSW & QLD, the two states with by far the highest level of installed electric hot water systems (combined they would represent 70% or so of all installed systems) they have in fact been officially reversed. When you consider the hundreds millions of dollars that have gone into promoting low emission hot water in the form of state & federal rebates & STC certificates it seems crazy that we would now start rolling back on our commitment to these technology and the phase out of high emission electric systems. However when you scratch a little lower you begin to see what is at play.

    Firstly the australian hot water market is dominated by one major company which is responsible for around 55-60% of all sales and the secondary company representing a remaining 20-25% of the market share. Both these companies manufacture in Australia but also important product from overseas, one is oversea controlled the other a locally controlled company. This duooply is the main reason why Australia’s have not enjoyed lower cost solar hot water systems despite what would seem significant increases in the size of the market (it has shrunk back significantly over the last year). Unlike solar p.v Solar Hot water & heat pump hot water systems have not seen dramatic falls in purchase costs that are typically found when the volumes increase and economies of scale are reached. This is mainly because unlike the Solar P.V market in Australia which is comprised of thousands of “importer/manufactures” and therefor has extremely high competition helping to lower prices, competition in hot water market is extremely limited. There are only 7 Solar Hot Water Manufactures/Importers in Australia that I could confidently say are selling more then 500 systems per year, and 4 doing the same volume in Heat Pumps. Again out of these 11 companies 2 own 80% of Solar Hot Water Market and around 60% of the heat pump market.

    Importing hot water systems into Australia is a much more complex procedure then photo voltaic companies, As it should be due to inherent safety issues that could arise from poor quality water heaters such as Legionella disease and the potential contamination of water supplies. However leaving safety standards aside which most countries adhere to and any product from a quality overseas manufacture would meet. There are also an number of unique features in the Australian market that need to be taken into account when designing a suitable hot water system for sale here. These could be thing such as Tank Size (ours tend to be much larger then overseas due to off peak tariffs) Thread connections, electrical supply etc.. This makes it extremely difficult to take an “off the shelf product” from an overseas factory and sell it into Australia (we spent over 3 years designing ours to meet the market needs). Even if a product passes Australian standards the company main not choose to sell into our market due to the lack of competition caused by our Duopoly and the lack of market potential for a customised product. For example General Electric has their heat pump on the Clean Energy Regulators Register and eligible for STC’s credits for over two years and to the best of my knowledge has never sold one locally. I could only guess that this is because it is not viable to take the customised model approved for standards into production here. This is a great shame for Australian consumers as the G.E American model sells for between $999 – $1299 in the united states as opposed to $2499 – $3499 for local manufactured products. Having more models with this sort of price points sold in Australia would have major impacts on our local market, making the move away from electric hot water systems much more affordable for the local consumer.

    However G.E is just one of a dozen or more company many very large corporations who have product certified and ready for sale in Australia but have not moved forward and begun distribution. This I believe is largely due to the failure of governments to follow through on their commitments to low emission water heating. Why did our governments not move forward when others around the world are (America has put in place legislation phasing out electric hot water systems over 50Gallon (190L) in favour of heat pumps from the start of 2015) because the local manufactures did not want it. This is despite three Regulatory impact statements and hundreds of pages of documents that concluded that the net economic benefit of switching to low emissions technology would far out way any potential loss of local made product. Overseas studies have also shown that due to the purchase patterns of hot water, entrenched brands with distribution would still dominate markets if they choose to import rather then manufacture product locally.

    The claim given by politicians was that the switch to low emissions water heating was to high a burden to expect consumers to bare. Despite the fact that they would benefit from much lower electricity bills. This is certainly true of locally sourced low emission water heaters but when you can source high quality products from international suppliers and deliver them to consumers for around 50% less (this is even before economies of scale are in place) this argument does not stack up.

    I remember having conversation with one of the big two’s state manager for NSW around five years ago, and he said “hot water manufacturing in Australia is safe as it is not feasible to ship air from overseas” What he meant is that electric storage systems are bulky products and it is not worth manufacturing overseas and then having high transport cost plus import duties. This is not true of say continuos flow gas water heaters for which the vast majority are imported and rebadged say.
    However while it is not worth importing an electric hot water system say from China or Thailand (Last time I did the costings a 250L electric landed for a little over $300 at 1AUD – 1USD given the retail price of $700-$800 for such a system one can only presume the local manufactured price is a similar amount or less. However you start adding solar panels or tubes or heat pump compression systems to these tanks and suddenly the price versus local sourced product drops significantly and importation because viable.

    This everybody is the reason we are not going to see cheap low emission hot water systems in Australia anytime soon. Don’t believe me has anyone heard a peep out of the two major players in regard to the Ret Review when this could have a major negative impact on support for Solar & Heat Pump water heaters in Australia, No?
    Did anyone hear major backlash from these companies when the phase out of electric hot water systems was slowly dismantled, No? They don’t want to switch to Solar or Heat Pumps it’s hard and they would not be competitive. The government does not want to switch to Solar or Heat Pumps it’s hard and we might lose another 1200 jobs (the number of employees of hot water manufactures in Australia, although realistically the number of loss would be far less as only a percentage of these are involved in the manufacturing side and even then this would not die completely.

    Now I am certainly not against local made product or Australian jobs I live in this beautiful country and employ people myself. However I think more people need to be made aware of what is really going on around them and what the true motivation beyond certain government actions and policies.

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