China installed more solar panels in 2013 than any country ever has

Harnessing the power of government subsidies.
Harnessing the power of government subsidies.
Image: Reuters/Carlos Barria
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China is now home to more solar panels than any other country, after installing 12 gigawatts of solar panels in 2013, according to Bloomberg New Energy Finance. That’s equal to the total amount of panels in the entire United States, and more than any country has ever added in a single year. Greenpeace estimates the figure is a bit lower, but still record-breaking, at between 9.5 and 10.7 gigawatts.

China’s solar industry has been showing signs of recovery after the collapse of  solar panel makers like the bankrupt Suntech, whose debt-fueled expansion went awry when solar panel prices started falling. But now China’s renewed solar panel manufacturing boomlet is putting Chinese factories back to work and giving rise to cheaper solar panels (paywall) for everyone. Chinese firms, supported by subsidies and power tariffs that are part of the government’s renewable energy campaign, are criss-crossing China and building massive solar generating projects, like a 1,000 MW solar plant in the remote Xinjiang Region. China aims to have 35 gigawatts of solar energy by 2015, adding about 10 gigawatts a year.

Still, some experts worry the recovery is tenuous and the recent boom may just be followed by another bust if governments cut subsidy programs. China is trying to consolidate the sector by closing small and idle plants, but is running into resistance from local governments that have invested in them.