China may have installed up to over 40 GW of solar capacity in 2020 based on preliminary data, according to a new report from the Asia Europe Clean Energy Advisory (AECEA). The agency had earlier predicted 34 GW to 38 GW of new installations in 2020.
The residential rooftop solar segment witnessed a strong demand with 10.1 GW of capacity installation in 2020. In November 2020, 3.49 GW of residential rooftop solar capacity was added, representing one-third of the year’s total rooftop solar installations. In October 2020, the country added 1.3 GW of residential rooftop solar capacity.
Residential rooftop solar installations accounted for about 25% of the overall demand in 2020. The Shandong province led the way with 4.57 GW of new installations, followed by Hebei with 4.1 GW. China’s National Energy Administration (NEA) indicated it would continue subsidies for residential solar installation in 2021.
In December 2020, China installed up to 14-15 GW of solar capacity due to the year-end rush, the report estimated. Earlier in 2020, NEA pointed out that 2020 should be the last year the government would offer subsidies for solar installations.
According to AECEA data, the full-year demand in 2020 may have risen between 27% and 36%. By the end of 2020, China’s total installed solar capacity was set to reach 245 GW, surpassing the official 13th five-year-plan target of 105 GW by over 130%. `
China installed 18.7 GW of ground-mounted solar capacity in the first nine months of 2020, representing a year-on-year (YoY) increase of nearly 17%.
Frank Haugwitz, Director of AECEA, said, “Overall, the installation of 14-15 GW in one single month is not unusual if compared with past years’ experiences.” The province of Guizhou led the way with around 5.2 GW of YoY installations.
Last month, Chinese President Xi Jinping announced that the country should have 1,200 GW of solar plus wind capacity by 2030. Currently, the country has 485 GW of installed solar plus wind capacity. To achieve this target, the country needs to install 72 GW of solar plus wind capacity annually through 2030, down 13 GW or 15.29% compared to the estimated cumulative installed capacity of 85 GW in 2020.
According to Frank, “It is fair to assume that the 1,200 GW target announcement has been used as guidance for re-drafting the forthcoming 14th five-year-plan.”
In its annual energy working meeting in December 2020, NEA set a target of installing 120 GW of solar plus wind capacity in 2021. To meet this target, the country needs to increase its installed capacity to around 42% YoY compared to 85 GW in 2020. AECEA estimated that the annual solar capacity installation would stand between 45 GW and 50 GW in 2021, a 12-25% increase compared to 2020.
The report stated that a target of 120 GW would not be easy to achieve. According to China’s state grid corporation, the country’s existing grid could accommodate only 48.45 GW of solar and 36.65 GW of wind energy, around 28% short of the 120 GW target. To enhance the grid capacity, up to 15 ultra-high voltage-direct current lines are under construction. However, these lines will not be operational before 2022-2023.
NEA also unveiled its plans to release a program shaping the development of over 20 large facilities with a combined capacity of around 40 GW as a reserved capacity. This is in addition to an already approved project pipeline of 50 GW.
The report also said that over half a dozen national energy utilities would increase their activities in the downstream sector with the aim of 35 GW to 40 GW annual installations by 2025.