China Solar Exports Grow to $52B

China Solar Exports Grow to $52B
China's solar exports grew 64 percent to $52 billion in 2022 despite global trade tensions, according to Wood Mackenzie.
Image by JONGHO SHIN via iStock

China’s solar exports grew 64 percent to $52 billion in 2022 despite global trade tensions, according to Wood Mackenzie (WoodMac).

The country’s exports were mainly dominated by modules in 2022, WoodMac highlighted, adding that Europe remained the country’s top solar module export market with a 56 percent share. Solar cells saw more than 100 percent growth as the global PV market expanded, with Southeast Asia taking a 31 percent share of China’s solar cell exports, WoodMac noted.

China’s PV export revenue jumped to $52 billion last year from $32 billion in 2021, $22 billion in 2020, $21 billion in 2019, and $15 billion in 2018, according to WoodMac data.

“Trade tensions have taken a back seat to high power prices driven by the energy crisis, and this is causing consumers and developers from around the world to buy more solar panels from China,” WoodMac Research Director Alex Whitworth said in a company statement.  

U.S. tariffs on Chinese-made modules have driven module production to Southeast Asia, where many manufacturing facilities import cells from China, WoodMac said. Chinese modules were up to 57 percent cheaper than U.S. and EU produced modules last year, according to the company, which noted that this price gap was mainly driven by material cost, “where China holds the advantage due to low energy costs, scale advantages, and government support”.

China’s PV manufacturing is expanding to capture global markets, WoodMac said, adding that U.S., EU, and India policies won’t undermine the country’s dominance in this field.

“The U.S. is counting on the IRA, which will allocate at least $41 billion to stimulate domestic manufacturing,” Whitworth said.

“But costs still favor imported modules, and even as more local module production comes online in coming years, there will be persistent dependence on imports of components from Asia,” Whitworth added.

WoodMac noted that the U.S. government’s aim to produce 100 percent U.S.-made modules by 2026 will be difficult “due to a significant lack of wafer and cell production in the region, and incentives cannot fully bridge the manufacturing cost gap between U.S.-made modules and Chinese ones”.

In Europe, Whitworth said the EU is advocating trade restrictions to secure local PV manufacturing but lacks specific policies to propel capacity build‑outs and displace imports.

“India also has great ambitions to expand its PV manufacturing, but financial support is insufficient to reach aggressive targets,” Whitworth added.

Solar Energy Generation, Capacity

According to BP’s latest statistical review of world energy, which was published last year, China had the highest solar energy generation in 2021 at 327 terawatt hours. The U.S. ranked second, with 165.4 terawatt hours, and Japan ranked third, with 86.3 terawatt hours, the review showed.

Total world solar generation in 2021 came in at 1,032.5 terawatt hours, of which the OECD provided 523.3 terawatt hours and non-OECD provided 509.2 terawatt hours, BP’s latest review revealed.

In addition to the most solar generation, China had the most solar capacity in 2021 with 306.4 GW of installed PV power, according to the review. The U.S. came in second with 93.7 GW and Japan came in third with 74.2 GW, the review outlined. Total world solar capacity in 2021 was shown in the review to be 843.1 GW.

China took the solar capacity top spot from Germany back in 2015, producing 43.5 GW at the time, the report highlighted. It had held the top spot ever since, according to BP’s review.

China Renewable Energy Growth

Back in November last year, Rystad Energy projected that China’s renewable energy growth would “continue on a steep upward trajectory” that it said could see it reach close to 6,000 gigawatts (GW) of installed solar PV and wind capacity by 2050.

The company, which highlighted that China announced its target of lifting total installed solar PV and wind capacity to 1,200 GW by 2030 compared to 745 GW in 2022 during COP 26, said in a company statement at the time that current developments suggest China will not only meet this target but could surpass it and increase total installed capacity to around 2,000 GW.

In the statement, Rystad highlighted that China had more 90 percent of existing global solar panel manufacturing capacity, “meaning panels can be supplied at affordable prices”. Rystad also outlined in the statement that, since 2010, China had installed 160 GW of hydro capacity, 46 GW of nuclear, 360 GW of solar PV and 360 GW of wind, “making it the largest developer of renewable energy capacity worldwide”.

“China is ahead of the game - coal use in the power sector is set to peak in two years’ time and new renewable power is coming online faster than any other country,” Carlos Torrez Diaz, Rystad Energy’s Head of Power, said in a company statement in November last year.

“Economics favoring renewables and domestic solar manufacturing capacity means that China’s power sector could rapidly decarbonize by 2050,” he added.

“China has all the pieces needed to scale renewables rapidly and the extent of its success will have a global impact on global greenhouse gas emissions,” he continued.

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