China's NEA releases PV installation target for 2016

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China’s National Energy Administration (NEA) distributed a formal document to its provincial sub-offices and related national grid companies on Monday to act as a guideline for the year’s PV installations. The document outlines a total PV installation target of 18.1GW for 2016, within which 12.6 GW are for standard PV installations, including both ground-mounted PV and distributed PV projects, and the additional 5.5 GW are for demonstration projects within the Front Runner Program.

This target is slightly higher than that of 2015, which was 17.8GW. As the guideline is from the central government for the PV industry, the target is assigned to provinces in exact numbers to regulate the actual investments made. However, there are holes which could result in higher installations than the target given.

China is going to execute a PV poverty alleviation program for four years starting from 2016, which has a target of installing a total of 10 GW of PV, working out at an average of 2 GW per year. Small-scale distributed PV systems, between 5 KW to 10 KW, will be installed on the houses of selected poor farmers, as part of the program. The aim is to enable them to generate income by selling electricity to the local grid. Like other PV projects, both central and local government will pay subsidies on the investment into these small PV projects to encourage the usage of clean energy.

It is clearly indicated within the document that there is no installation limits to PV projects on rooftops and facades, and for those systems that produce electricity that can be entirely self-consumed. The installation of these projects will not count towards the allocated amount within the PV target, which means they will in addition to the total figure.

Furthermore, there are no PV installation limits, provided no limitation issues occur, for the four biggest municipalities of Beijing, Shanghai, Tianjin and Chongqing, plus the special minority autonomous region of Tibet. Actually, these areas are not included in the list of provinces, which means every installation in these five areas will be added to the target total.

Taking those three factors into account, it is very possible that the total actual PV installations for 2016 in China will exceed 20GW.

However, considering that the PV installation target for 2015 was released in January of that year, this delayed announcement hints towards disharmony within the NEA. Some old problems continue: Whether there is enough funding for the target; how to consume the electricity generated and cut off the curtailment; how to consume the massive output of cells and modules from the Chinese PV manufacturers, with further expansion plans still in place, regardless of the looming over capacity. It is a tough job for NEA to balance all these factors with its target and provincial figures.

The three provinces of Xinjiang Uygur Autonomous Region, Gansu and Yunnan were not given any allocation for new PV installations which means no new PV projects are allowed there in 2016. The reason given by NEA is that “there are not sufficient conditions for PV projects” in these provinces, yet it is more likely that the actual reason is in the curtailment. In the first quarter of 2016, total curtailment of PV in Xinjiang was as high as 52%, and this figure was 39% for Gansu province. Without a good solution to curtailment, the development of PV plants in the north and northwest of China will merely get harder and harder.