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China’s solar boom already accelerating past last year’s record surge

BEIJING - China’s solar sector is accelerating an already world-beating pace of installations as costs tumble and demand keeps rising, putting it on track to rush past last year’s record.

The country installed almost three times the volume of solar capacity between January and the end of April than in the same period in 2022, and is on track to add more panels this year than the entire total in the United States.

Falling costs in the solar supply chain and rising consumption of electricity in the world’s No. 2 economy are fueling demand for the clean power source. China, which remains heavily reliant on coal despite its huge renewables fleet, is aiming to press ahead with expansions to meet President Xi Jinping’s goal of reaching net zero by 2060.

The nation could install 154 gigawatts of solar capacity this year, BloombergNEF said on Monday, raising its China forecast from a previous total of 129 gigawatts. The US had a cumulative total of 144 gigawatts installed at the start of 2022, according to BNEF data.

“China is the world’s largest solar market, and it’s going to continue to be that way through 2030,” BNEF’s lead solar analyst Jenny Chase said on Monday at an event in Shanghai.

The rise in China’s deployments means the world is on track to have a total of 5,300 gigawatts of capacity by 2030 - about the volume of solar that is required in scenarios under which global net zero targets are met. Other key sectors, including transportation and wind power remain behind track.

The industry’s frantic expansion - and whether it’s sustainable - will be under debate at the sector’s largest China conference, the SNEC PV Power Expo, which opens on Tuesday in Shanghai. Speakers include executives from top global solar producers, including Longi Green Energy Technology, Tongwei and Trina Solar.

China is adding intermittent wind and solar generation at a much more rapid pace than energy storage, and there are signs that some grids are already being overwhelmed with power in the middle of the day.

A massive build-out of wind and solar plants in remote desert areas is also testing the ability of power lines to keep pace. Building more renewables than the grid could handle led to high curtailment rates and a sharp slowdown in activity in the late 2010s.

Still, solar panel maker JA Solar Technology forecasts new solar installations of about 150 gigawatts in China this year, and sees potential for that to rise to as much as 180 gigawatts if lower prices boost demand, Morgan Stanley said in a note last week.

The China Photovoltaic Industry Association said in February that the nation would likely install 95 gigawatts to 120 gigawatts this year - up from last year’s record of 87.4 gigawatts. BLOOMBERG