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China Is Going Solar In A Big Way

Right now, it is just about tied with Germany. But it's about to blow way past that.

China Is Going Solar In A Big Way

Illustration: kasha_malasha via Shutterstock

China is investing in solar in a big way, which is great news for the rest of us. China is a nation of 1.36 billion souls, so even though it has only just passed Germany (population 81.6 million) in terms of installed solar capacity, it’s easily on track to leave it in the dust.

According to Reuters, even while missing its own target, China now has 43 gigawatts of solar energy, against Germany’s 40 gigawatts. Clearly, in practical terms, Germany is still way ahead, to the extent that it sometimes produces so much renewable energy it has to sell the excess, whereas in China, solar is still producing just under 3% of the total power output.

But Germany only installed an additional 1.3GW in 2015, whereas China added 15GW in 2014. To get an idea of how big that number is, the U.S. had a total installed solar capacity of 27.4GW at the end of 2015.

The photos here, from NASA’s Landsat 8 satellite, via Planet Labs, show the growth of one installation on the Tibetan Plateau near Golmud, China, between 2013 and 2016.

Finally, it seems, renewables are becoming not just an alternative energy source, but a primary one, and the urgency of installation shows that many smart countries are already thinking past the end of oil.

And there may be one other advantage to a massive solar push in China. Prices of installations will drop. According to the Solar Energies Industry Association, as the industry has grown, the price per watt of installations dropped from $8 in 2007 to under $3 in 2014. Now China is fully on board, we might expect its massive manufacturing capacity to push that down way further.

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