Chinaâ€™s Solar Growth and the Lesson It Brings to U.S
We all know how fast Chinaâ€™s solar growth is, at the end of 2010, China had just 800 MW of solar capacity installed within its borders, but by the end of 2015, the number skyrocketed 50 times â€” thatâ€™s 43,500 MW in total, the largest installed solar base of any country in the world.
Seeing this improvement China did, researchers from Stanford University said in a new report â€œthe U.S. should capitalize on Chinaâ€™s formidable experience to put its own domestic solar power sector on a more â€œeconomically sensibleâ€ path.â€
A report entitled, â€œThe New Solar System,â€ which was funded by a research grant from the U.S. Department of Energy (DOE), offers a number of recommendations for putting U.S. solar policy on an economically sustainable tangent, which, the authors say, requires acknowledging and learning from Chinaâ€™s approach.
â€œIt is by recognizing Chinaâ€™s key role, rather than resisting it, that the United States will contribute most profoundly to the expansion of cost-effective solar energy globally and, in the process, grow a solar sector in the United States that is significant in scope and profitable over the long term,â€ it concludes.
A co-author of the report named Reicher stated â€œthe Chinese are not only leading the world in terms of the manufacturing of solar equipment, but they are also the largest deployer of solar energy,â€ said Dan Reicher, executive director of Stanfordâ€™s Steyer-Taylor Center, which is a joint research center involving Stanford Law School and the Stanford Graduate School of Business. â€œAnd they are getting increasingly competitive in the research and development area, which the U.S. has historically been dominating. With a new federal administration and a new Congress, this is the time to be thinking about what we want the U.S. role in solar industry to look like five, 10 years from now.â€
The report chronicles the maturation of Chinaâ€™s solar enterprise over three broad stages. First, the country commoditized the manufacture of â€œvast quantities of solar equipment,â€ it says. Next, it deployed â€œvast quantities of that equipment within its borders.â€
And now, China is attempting to reform both its solar research and development effort and its massive solar deployment apparatus in an attempt to make them more economically efficient, it says.
The Shade That Covers U.S Solar
The U.S. solar sector has flourished, though not to its potential, the report says. Deployment of solar in the U.S. surged over recent years in certain areas of the U.S.â€”particularly the Southwest, Mountain West, and Californiaâ€”which â€œhave some of the best solar resources on the planet,â€ it notes.
In 2015, the U.S. was the third-largest deployer of solar modules in the world, behind China and Japan. It installed 7,200 MW of solar capacity in 2015, up 16% from 2014. And, cumulatively, the U.S. has installed 25,600 MW of solar capacity as of 2015, placing it fourth globally, behind China, Germany, and Japan. In 2016, new U.S. solar deployment increased to 14,600 MWâ€”essentially twice the figure for 2015.
Bipartisan U.S. support for solar has also risen of late, as was evident with a December 2015 vote by Congress to extend the investment tax credit for five more years, and the establishment of more ambitious renewable portfolio standards in many states.
Yet, the U.S. solar industry is currently facing enormous uncertainty, the report notes.
Some important ways the U.S. could learn from Chinaâ€™s approach is to better understand its long-term energy policy (Chinaâ€™s five-year planning system), its public-private technology partnerships, and technology commercialization, the report says.
One key recommendation offered in the report is for the U.S. to prioritize low-cost power over domestic solar-manufacturing jobs. The Energy Departmentâ€™s SunShot Initiative in 2011 launched an effort to render solar power without subsidies cost-competitive, the report notes, and it has accomplished part of that by setting targets. At its inception, the initiative targeted costs at $0.06/kWh for utility-scale solar, $0.07/kWh for commercial rooftop solar, and $0.09/kWh for residential rooftop solar by 2020. In May 2016, the DOE announced that the solar industry had realized 70% of those cuts. In November 2016, the DOE announced new unsubsidized-cost targets for 2030: $0.03/kWh for utility-scale solar, $0.04/kWh for commercial rooftop solar, and $0.05/kWh for residential solar.
But reducing the cost of solar will require even more research and development spending, as well as a reduction in wasteful spending everywhere across the solar value chain, the report says. It might also require increased international cooperation and significant advances in energy storage and transmission.
Scaling up solar power in the U.S. may also require placing a price on carbon, advancing climate policies, achieving â€œan equitable outcome to intensifying disputesâ€ over net energy metering, and extending tax credits, the report says. Other recommendations include making solar manufacturing a priority and approaching research and development more strategically.