Why China Is Leading the World in Solar Power

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China is the world’s top energy consumer, with the vast majority of its electricity coming from domestically mined coal. But the Asian nation is cutting its dependence on coal, oil, and natural gas, and replacing it with solar at a breakneck pace.

Between January and the end of June, China added 3.3 gigawatts of solar capacity, double the additions over the same period last year and equivalent to the entire solar capacity of Australia, one of the sunniest places on earth. That brings China’s total solar power supply up to 23 gigawatts, second only to Germany’s 36 GW and just 13 GW shy of the country’s goal of having 35 GW of solar installed by 2015.

The main reason, of course, is environmental. Choking clouds of pollution from vehicles and fossil-fueled power plants are the norm for residents of many Chinese cities, and the situation is only getting worse. Earlier this month, the Chinese government announced that it would ban the use of coal in Beijing by the end of 2020 – although coal power use outside the capital is expected to continue.

Solar shift from Europe to Asia

Germany used to be the undisputed solar champion. While the country is still a leader in solar power generation, it is being surpassed by China and, to a lesser extent, Japan, which embraced solar-powered electricity after the Fukushima nuclear power plant meltdown in 2011. That event forced Japan to shut down all of its nuclear reactors and look to other sources to meet its electricity needs.