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5 November 2020

China announces Q3 figures; 7.6 GW wind, 7.18 GW solar

China’s National Energy Administration held its quarterly online press conference, announcing the status of national energy production, consumption, and the progress of renewable energy development.

Wind and solar capacity have now reached 223 GW each, with solar reaching equal footing in that metric this year. Together with 365 GW hydropower and 26 GW of biomass, China now has 837 GW of renewable energy installed.

China’s wind sector saw 13.92 GW of capacity installed in the first three quarters of 2020, of which 1.58 GW was offshore and 12.32 GW onshore. In the third quarter alone, 7.6 GW was installed, of which 520 MW was offshore and 7.06 GW onshore.

Meanwhile, 18.7 GW of new solar power was installed so far this year – 54% of it utility-scale, as the proportion of distributed installations continues to grow. In Q3 by itself, 7.18 GW solar was installed, 59% of it distributed, although this shouldn’t be overemphasized as the fourth quarter will have a huge surge of utility-scale projects ahead of the end of subsidies for projects of that category.

Geographically, there’s a massive preponderance towards Inner Mongolia and the other provinces of North China – a category that doesn’t include Xinjiang and the other western desert states. So far this year that category saw 8 GW installed, 43% of total, while densely populated, but less sunny East China saw 3.5 GW – largely rooftop with some utility projects such as solar-fishery platforms.

Curtailment fell 0.2% to 1.7%, and most of that occurs in the sparsely populated western regions such as Tibet, Qinghai and Xinjiang.

Last year China installed 30 GW, down from 44 GW in 2018, so predictions this year were pessimistic to begin with – starting at 30 GW or even 23 GW, but then increasing to 38 GW. Around the middle of the year, industry figures then began floating a potential 45 GW for 2020, including a 20 GW surge in the last quarter (especially December), which would be in keeping with 2019’s last-minute rush ahead of an annual subsidy reduction. But with 18.7 GW installed so far, adding 20 GW in Q4 would only reach the ‘medium case’ of 38.7 GW.

For those looking for 45 GW, this quarter may be a disappointment. Coronavirus caused some delays, but these were earlier in the year; the real issue is the shortages and price rises seen with solar-grade glass and polysilicon. In each case, prices have increased by between 50% and 100% since July. This has been exacerbated by some suppliers and purchasers adopting a ‘wait-and-see’ attitude amid constant price fluctuations. The question then becomes – how much capacity got delayed from Q3 to Q4, and how much got delayed from Q4 into next year, past the subsidy deadline?