China's PV manufacturing output surpasses $31bn in first half of year

China’s total solar PV manufacturing output for the first six months of the year has surpassed $31 billion, the country’s Ministry of Industry and Information Technology (MIIT) confirmed on Wednesday.

With China committed to halting the rise in its carbon emissions over the next 15 years, and with one eye on December’s UN climate talks in Paris, the Chinese government has committed to backing clean energy industries, with solar PV the obvious beneficiary.

The 200 billion yuan in total output value generated within the industry so far this year far outstrips the 150 billion yuan ($23.44 billion) generated over the same period in 2014, but not all sectors of the solar value chain have experienced a fillip in production output.

According to MIIT’s statement, China shipped $7.7 billion worth of modules, silicon wafers and batteries in the first six months of the year. In H1 2014, that figure was $8.2 billion.

Domestically, however, the deployment and production of solar components is up across the board – silicon wafer production reached 4.5 billion wafers, up slightly on 2014, while the 74,000 tonnes of crystalline silicon produced in the first six months of 2015 is a 15.6% increase on the same period in 2014.

Cumulative installed solar capacity added for the year up to June 30 reached 7.73 GW, which leaves China slightly off the pace it has set itself – the National Energy Administration (NEA) is targeting the installation of 17.8 GW of solar PV capacity this year.

The world’s leading emitter of greenhouse gases, China has vowed to increase the share of clean energy in its total energy mix to 15% by 2020. Currently, that figure is around 11%, but the need for more renewable energy sources is apparent both ecologically and economically: leading industry groups believe China needs 200 GW of solar by 2020 in order to plug projected shortfalls of nuclear and hydropower.

Distributed generation

Currently, China’s overall cumulative installed solar PV capacity stands at a little over 33 GW. Growth in the country’s distributed generation (DG) segment has been slower than planned, which is stymieing efforts to hit the overall target.

The NEA confirmed that only one quarter of its targeted DG capacity of 8 GW was reached in 2014, but Bloomberg New Energy Finance (BNEF) forecasts that DG projects may amount to between 5 and 7 GW this year.

The problem, analysts believe, is the difficulty many smaller solar developers and projects face in securing financing from Chinese banks, which are usually drawn to the economies of scale apparent on larger projects.

However, a new solar crowdfunding platform – Solarbao.com – could soon change all that, and has already made a promising start in China, backing 22,000 solar projects to the tune of $350 million pledged.

Solarbao.com is part-owned by solar company LDK Solar, and invites investors to back projects with a pledge as low as 1,000 yuan. This model, which has helped to liberalize solar markets in Europe and North America, is relatively alien to Chinese investors, but as internet, crowd-backed financing becomes more accepted, the potential to tap into the growing thirst for solar power among ordinary Chinese is vast.

According to Bloomberg, leading solar plant developer United Photovoltaics Group will begin using crowdfunding to help finance its own projects before 2015 is out.