China installed three times more solar capacity in the first four months this year than in the same period of last year, beating its own record.
At this rate, the country will add more solar panels this year than the U.S. current total by the end of the year, Bloomberg has reported, citing data from BloombergNEF.
The drivers of the solar boom are growing demand for electricity and falling costs for solar power, according to BloombergNEF.
China’s leadership in solar is not cause for celebration in the West, however. It has been made possible by the fact that China controls most of the raw material supply chains in solar and that it also has access to cheap coal-fired power to produce the panels. This cheap input energy makes Chinese panels dominant not only at home but on international markets, too.
To counter this, the U.S. administration imposed tariffs on panels imported from Asia, which really did not make the U.S. solar power industry happy. The tariffs make imported panels more expensive, pushing these companies’ costs higher and compromising their competitiveness.
At the same time, however, U.S. producers are only too happy to see Asian panels tariffed, which would make their own products more competitive in a higher-cost environment. It is similar to the tensions between the oil lobby and the corn lobby when it comes to blending regulations.
Europe, meanwhile, is making its own plans to become a solar power hotspot, with the generous help of national governments and Brussels. To do that, however, it would need to either increase its dependence on China-sourced materials or build new supply chains from scratch, which would be quite a challenging undertaking.