In recent months the world has turned to China to find new hope for renewable energy, especially with Trump and Brexit looming as threats to sustainability. In 2016 China almost doubled its solar capacity from 42.88 gigawatt in 2015 to 77.42 gigawatt in 2016. For comparison, solar capacity in the UK was 11.5 gigawatt in 2016.
In the following, I would like to share some personal impressions based on my recent journey through China. The first point that I found striking was the difference between the two most visible ways to harvest energy from the sun: solar water heating and photovoltaic for electricity. The first is visible almost everywhere in China: it is installed on the rooftops of newly build apartment blocks, but also on the roof tops of the houses of the poorest. No matter where I travelled to in China, solar water heating was there. It seems to be a decentralised solution, a way for households facing energy-poverty to generate warm water, which is a contrast to the West were more affluent households invest in solar energy.
The case of photovoltaic is different: whilst there were some modules on new buildings in Beijing, the most impressive display of photovoltaic that I have ever seen was in a rural area in the North of Gansu province, close to (inner) Mongolia. Sitting on a train to Dunhuang and looking out of the window the only thing I could see passing by for more than one hour were photovoltaic panels and windfarms. The size of these sites clearly indicate that these are commercial mega-projects. In contrast to the solar water heating I have never seen photovoltaic being used in poor neighbourhoods or villages.
It will be interesting to follow the future development and to see how these two very different approaches develop. Will we see more decentralised efforts of people trying to satisfy their personal energy needs or will we see more centralised mega-projects, replacing traditional power plants?
https://www.reuters.com/article/us-china-solar-idUSKBN15J0G7 (accessed 02/08/2017)
http://theenergyst.com/uk-solar-hits-11-5gw-up-19-in-2016/ (accessed 02/08/2017)