New figures reveal effect of policy vacuum on China’s large scale solar

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The latest new solar capacity figures to emerge from China have painted an even grimmer picture than previously thought as a continuing national PV policy vacuum keeps the utility scale segment of the world’s biggest solar marketplace in the doldrums.

Days after Californian investment bank Roth Capital Partners reported 4.6 GW of new solar capacity was added in January and February – 3.4 GW and 1.2 GW, respectively – a Chinese consultancy has quoted an official as reporting even lower figures.

The Asia Europe Clean Energy (Solar) Advisory Co Ltd (AECEA) has reported just 5.2 GW of new PV capacity was added in the first quarter of this year, and added, China’s Electricity Council reported last month just 3.49 GW had been installed in January and February.

The 5.2 GW, first-quarter figure reportedly came from an official of China’s National Renewable Energy Agency and is the latest detail to leak from weeks of policy negotiations being held in Beijing between government organizations and solar industry stakeholders.

Project numbers almost halved

The AECEA this morning reported the 5.2 GW of new solar added in the first three months of the year represented a 46% drop on the same period last year – during a solar boom abruptly curtailed by the Chinese government at the end of May due to a rising solar subsidy debt pile owed by the state to project developers.

The consultancy said the most alarming revelation about the January to April figures was that this year’s new installations were virtually all small scale, distributed generation projects because larger projects have ground to a halt since that policy about-turn last year.

The AECEA says the ongoing Beijing negotiations – despite last week producing two consultancy papers hinting at a proposed path to subsidy-free solar in China – may not become official policy until early or mid June.

Deadline looming

Roth Capital, in its analysis, said staying on track for an expected 40 GW of new solar in China this year would hinge on whether the National Energy Administration was able to publish details of projects approved for subsidies by the end of June.

Given last Wednesday’s consultation paper about subsidy-free project approvals stipulated details of such facilities would have to be submitted to central authorities by next Thursday, the timing looks off and may set alarm bells ringing in the boardrooms of manufacturers such as Longi, Daqo and GCL Poly who are currently breaking the bank to expand their production capacities.

Despite the disappointing figures, however, the AECEA maintained its prediction China will install 35-40 GW of new capacity this year.