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China Solar

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While we all know of the environmental disaster that is China and the huge problems the Chinese government has had in managing that pollution, especially given the emphasis it places on economic growth and the control local party officials have over these matters in the their localities, it’s also true that China is eating our lunch when it comes to promoting solar power and getting facilities installed. Whether this happens fast enough to mitigate China’s enormous impact upon climate change, well I’m skeptical. But unlike the United States, the Chinese government also sees the necessity to transitioning to renewables.

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  • shah8

    Nah…

    In addition to what Joe From Lowell said, much of those facilities aren’t truly lit because the infrastructure to get energy produced to where it’s consumed doesn’t really exist yet.

    Much like many of these subsidy programs you find in Japan or Spain or whereever, what you’re getting is a lot of installed capacity that isn’t organized into an effective social, technological, and economic web. Moreover, in most places, preexisting institutional actors prevent any sort of low level organizing from scaling up to challenge elite prerogatives, like the game going on in Arizona or Germany.

    • joe from Lowell

      an effective social, technological, and economic web.

      This is where rooftop solar has a big advantage over commercial-scale power plants, for now.

  • efgoldman

    the Chinese government also sees the necessity to transitioning to renewables.

    Damned commies!

    • I think those damn Commies look at renewables like they look at dissidents.

      If they’re not killed outright, dissidents can often be successfully re-educated.

      So, why can’t energy sources be renewable?

  • Bitter Scribe

    Solar is also highly advanced in Germany (I don’t know where Shah8 is getting his/her info). It’s because the German government made rational decisions to encourage it through tax breaks and regulations that include requiring electric companies to accept it in their grid. Here in the good old USA, meanwhile, we have lobbyists writing legislation that would allow electric companies to charge solar panel owners for using their lines.

    • shah8

      No. Solar people are having to fight the gas and coal plant operators because of the effect solar has on the grid making their plants unprofitable.

      • Bitter Scribe

        Yes, but the point is, the solar people are winning. That couldn’t happen with our Koch-owned government.

        • Manju

          O come on. Are the Koch’s more powerful than the money-interests on the other side: Goldman Sachs, Bill Gates, Kleiner Perkins, Warren Buffett…not to mention the DoD and the CIA?

        • shah8

          Huh? I’m not sure you’re really following what I’m saying.

          /me shrugs…

          The german fossil fuel boys beat up on the nuke boys.

          Relatively pro-nuke, this article from my quick scans can bring folks up to speed mostly accurately.

          http://www.dissentmagazine.org/article/green-energy-bust-in-germany

        • joe from Lowell

          Yes, but the point is, the solar people are winning.

          China has thousands of megawatts of new coal plants in the pipeline.

          We have zero.

    • Conservative POV:
      Because those damn Germans are goddamn SOCIALISTS!!!

      Germany’s not an “exceptional” nation full of Freedom-and-Liberty-loving-Randian-Overlord/Job-Creator wannabe’s, like America!!!

      USA!
      USA!!
      USA!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

    • joe from Lowell

      the German government made rational decisions to encourage it through tax breaks

      Like those in the ARRA?

      and regulations that include requiring electric companies to accept it in their grid

      Like the Massachusetts Renewable Energy Portfolio Standard?

    • To quote the late, great RAH, TANSTAAFL.

      Rooftop solar is great. I’m a big fan. But unless you’re installing a ton of batteries and a backup generator to go with it, you’re going to need to connect up to the grid to power your house when it’s dark or cloudy or when you need more peak juice than your solar array can provide.

      And if you’re using the grid, then you should pay something for its maintenance and upkeep.

      • Stag Party Palin

        True, but how much should you pay? I have roof solar and have yet to receive my first net-charge bill from the DWP. It will be interesting to see what’s on that bill.

        Although the DWP “allows” me to feed power to the grid, it will not allow me to feed in more than I can use on an annual basis. IOW, I cannot be a net generator of power. At any price. I can’t make sense of that. They are mandated to produce X amount of renewable energy, the circuitry is there to record usage and flow the energy back and forth. I’d love to know why they are behaving like this.

  • joe from Lowell

    In addition to what I wrote at Juan’s place – it’s actually one one segment of one segment of the total solar energy field in which the Chinese lead us – analyses like these only look at installation investment, not R&D investments.

    The exponential growth in solar installations across the world is more a result of plummeting costs of generating power, than of direct government investment in installation, and those plummeting costs are mainly the result of the technology moving forward at such a remarkable rate. Guess who leads the world by a large margin in solar energy R&D?

    • Fake Irishman

      Right. Michael Grunwald takes a look at this pretty thoroughly in the New New Deal, which discussing the huge jolt the ARRA gave to renewable energy. Some of those tax credits are fading out, but renewable energy standards have thus far managed to withstand push back. Renewables are a small share of U.S. energy output, but they are no longer a rounding error and they are growing rapidly.

      • joe from Lowell

        It’s a damn shame that those tax breaks are fading out, but they worked. The seed was successfully planted and it sprouted, and there’s no un-planting it.

  • Manju

    huge jolt the ARRA gave to renewable energy

    Bingo. All these posts about the US Govt not being dedicated to environmentalism seem do dismiss this.

    I suppose if one thinks conservation is more crucial than technological innovation that would make sense, but we can at least acknowledge that this is how the US is proceeding. I

    And China & India, both of whom have govts that acknowledge the problem, don’t intend to reduce their energy consumption. They are both huge investors in new technologies.

    I understand that if one prefers to position the environmental movement like a civil rights, labor, or social one, this narrative is problematic, but it does indeed exist.

    To make matter worse, one must consider that a lot of $$ earmarked as defense/cia goes toward cleantech. And, as far as I can tell, they aren’t slowing down. There’s a lot of synergy between killing people and saving the environment.

    • Fake Irishman

      I don’t want to be unfair to Erik’s general point about emphasizing conservation and criticizing worshipping high-tech solutions though. And the ARRA bears this out too — it stuffed 10s of billions into boring old programs, like weatherization and retrofitting hundreds of government buildings to be much more efficient.

      • Manju

        ok, but by way of analogy, if a country experiencing malnutrition and starvation decide to look to Norman Borlaug and agrotech for a solution, as opposed to controlling population growth, I wouldn’t characterize them as not being dedicated to solving th problem.

        If you think their solution is wrong, that’s fine. Make the argument.

  • jon

    What China is doing is quite impressive. The US could also be doing it. But our government programs tend to be of short duration, rather complicated to administer, and have a great deal of local administration with widely divergent requirements. US solar installations are focusing on bringing down ‘Balance of System’ costs, which are typically more than the cost of solar panels in residential installations. Panel costs have dropped very quickly, but as economic decisions, it is the final cost and the return on investment, after all discounts, rebates, tax credits etc., that determines if projects are built.

    Spain is a great example of quick uptake, because the government was a bit over-generous (but not ridiculously so) in their credit and purchase guarantees. Britain briefly had a very high uptake, until the Conservative government reduced the inducements. But, factoring in Wind power, it’s becoming more frequent that renewables will produce the majority of Portugal, Spain, or Germany’s electricity on a given day. Scotland intends to become 100% renewable powered, and to export electricity to England.

    As installed prices come down it is appropriate for subsidy levels to be reduced, as is now happening in Germany and England, although we can discuss what the precise level should be at a given time, to be able to continue to encourage renewable energy without undue subsidies.

    A lesson of the US experience has been that smaller distributed private solar PV installations, mainly residential, are far easier and quicker to install and integrate to the grid than larger projects. We’ve also seen larger commercial PV projects go quickly and smoothly, often tied to industrial or warehouse buildings. Some solar field projects have also gotten built rather rapidly by private investors and by power companies.

    In contrast, large scale, utility grade solar installations have proceeded very slowly and only a few are in construction. Those are largely being built in the desert Southwest, and concentrating power towers are running into technical, engineering, construction and financing snags. This mirrors the difficulties that construction of new nuclear power plants are facing worldwide, where very few are coming into service, and construction delays are legion. One nuke is approximately 1GW. So China completed 12 nuke equivalents of solar last year. Yes, the sun does not shine 24 hrs a day, but electricity use does closely track daylight.

    Utilities that dragged their feet in adopting renewables are now feeling the impact, as their coal fired plants and nukes are rapidly becoming expensive burdens on the bottom line. Their directors and boards don’t want to take responsibility for making poor decisions that are decimating their profitability. So they are taking power plants offline to try to drive up the price of electricity. They are trying to restrict access to the grid by renewables, and to charge exorbitant connection fees. Many utilities are also lagging in maintaining and upgrading their power lines and distribution network, which also slows the installation of renewables.

    Ultimately, utilities are likely to become power distribution networks, accounting and billing operations, and the provider of peaking or base power of last resort. Utilities need to embrace their new role, or they will collapse, much like other mature industries when faced with transformative innovations.

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