Solar Now ‘Cheaper Than Grid Electricity’ in Every Chinese City, Study Finds
By Josh Gabbatiss
Projects in every city analyzed by the researchers could be built today without subsidy, at lower prices than those supplied by the grid, and around a fifth could also compete with the nation's coal electricity prices.
While previous studies of nations such as Germany and the U.S. have concluded that solar could achieve grid parity by 2020 in most developed countries, some have suggested China would have to wait decades.
Despite these results, grid parity may not drive a surge in the uptake of solar, a leading analyst tells Carbon Brief.
China's solar industry has rapidly expanded from a small, rural program in the 1990s to the largest in the world. It is both the biggest generator of solar power and the biggest installer of solar panels.
The installed capacity of solar panels in China in 2018 amounted to more than a third of the global total, with the country accounting for half the world's solar additions that year.
Since 2000, the Chinese government has unveiled over 100 policies supporting the PV industry, and technological progress has helped make solar power less expensive. This has led to the cost of electricity from solar power dropping, as demonstrated in the chart below.
Chart showing the historical levelized cost of electricity (LCOE) from solar power in China.
Source: Yan et al. (2019)
In their paper, professor Jinyue Yan of Sweden's Royal Institute of Technology and his colleagues explain that this "stunning" performance has been accelerated by government subsidies, but has also seen China overinvesting in "redundant construction and overcapacity." The authors write:
"Recently, the Chinese government has been trying to lead the PV industry onto a more sustainable and efficient development track by tightening incentive policies with China's 531 New Policy."
The researchers say the subsidy cuts under this policy in 2018 were a signal that the government wanted to make the industry less dependent on state support and shift its focus from scale to quality.
This, they say, has "brought the industry to a crossroads," with discussions taking place in China about when solar electricity generation could achieve grid parity.
In their analysis, Yan and his team examined the prospects for building industrial and commercial solar projects without state support in 344 cities across China, attempting to gauge where or whether grid parity could be achieved.
The team estimated the total lifetime price of solar energy systems in all of these cities, taking into account net costs and profits, including project investments, electricity output and trading prices.
Besides establishing that installations in every city tested could supply cheaper electricity than the grid, they also compared solar to the price of coal-generated power. They found that 22% of the cities could build solar systems capable of producing electricity at cheaper prices than coal.
Declining costs of solar technology, particularly crystalline silicon modules, mean the trend in China is also playing out around the world. In May, the International Renewable Energy Agency (IRENA) said that by the beginning of next year, grid parity could become the global norm for the solar industry.
Kingsmill Bond, an energy strategist at Carbon Tracker, says this is the first in-depth study he has seen looking at city-level solar costs in China, and is encouraged by this indication of solar becoming ever-more competitive. He tells Carbon Brief:
"The conclusion that industrial and commercial solar is cheaper than grid electricity means that the workshop of the world can embrace solar. Without subsidy and its distorting impacts, and driven by commercial gain."
On the other hand, Jenny Chase, head of solar analysis at BloombergNEF, says the findings revealed by Yan and his team are "fairly old news" as the competitive price of rooftop solar in China has been known about for at least a year.
She notes that this does not mean there has been a huge accompanying rollout of industrial and commercial solar, and says this is partly because of the long-term thinking required for investment to be seen as worthwhile.
Reposted with permission from our media associate Carbon Brief.
A tornado tore through a city north of Birmingham, Alabama, Monday night, killing one person and injuring at least 30.
- Tornadoes and Climate Change: What Does the Science Say ... ›
- Tornadoes Hit Unusually Wide Swaths of U.S., Alarming Climate ... ›
- 23 Dead as Tornado Pummels Lee County, AL in Further Sign ... ›
EcoWatch Daily Newsletter
By David Konisky
On his first day in office President Joe Biden started signing executive orders to reverse Trump administration policies. One sweeping directive calls for stronger action to protect public health and the environment and hold polluters accountable, including those who "disproportionately harm communities of color and low-income communities."
Michael S. Regan, President Biden's nominee to lead the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, grew up near a coal-burning power plant in North Carolina and has pledged to "enact an environmental justice framework that empowers people in all communities." NCDEQ
- Report Urges Biden to Reverse Trump's Environmental Rollbacks ›
- US Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) ›
- Biden's EPA Pick Michael Regan Urged to Address Environmental ... ›
- Biden Faces Pressure to Tackle 'Unfunded' Toxic Waste Sites ... ›
By Katherine Kornei
Clear-cutting a forest is relatively easy—just pick a tree and start chopping. But there are benefits to more sophisticated forest management. One technique—which involves repeatedly harvesting smaller trees every 30 or so years but leaving an upper story of larger trees for longer periods (60, 90, or 120 years)—ensures a steady supply of both firewood and construction timber.
A Pattern in the Rings<p>The <a href="https://www.encyclopedia.com/science/dictionaries-thesauruses-pictures-and-press-releases/coppice-standards-0" target="_blank">coppice-with-standards</a> management practice produces a two-story forest, said <a href="https://www.researchgate.net/profile/Bernhard_Muigg" target="_blank">Bernhard Muigg</a>, a dendrochronologist at the University of Freiburg in Germany. "You have an upper story of single trees that are allowed to grow for several understory generations."</p><p>That arrangement imprints a characteristic tree ring pattern in a forest's upper story trees (the "standards"): thick rings indicative of heavy growth, which show up at regular intervals as the surrounding smaller trees are cut down. "The trees are growing faster," said Muigg. "You can really see it with your naked eye."</p><p>Muigg and his collaborators characterized that <a href="https://ltrr.arizona.edu/about/treerings" target="_blank">dendrochronological pattern</a> in 161 oak trees growing in central Germany, one of the few remaining sites in Europe with actively managed coppice-with-standards forests. They found up to nine cycles of heavy growth in the trees, the oldest of which was planted in 1761. The researchers then turned to a historical data set — more than 2,000 oak <a href="https://eos.org/articles/podcast-discovering-europes-history-through-its-timbers" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">timbers from buildings and archaeological sites</a> in Germany and France dating from between 300 and 2015 — to look for a similar pattern.</p>
A Gap of 500 Years<p>The team found wood with the characteristic coppice-with-standards tree ring pattern dating to as early as the 6th century. That was a surprise, Muigg and his colleagues concluded, because the first mention of this forest management practice in historical documents occurred only roughly 500 years later, in the 13th century.</p><p>It's probable that forest management practices were not well documented prior to the High Middle Ages (1000–1250), the researchers suggested. "Forests are mainly mentioned in the context of royal hunting interests or donations," said Muigg. Dendrochronological studies are particularly important because they can reveal information not captured by a sparse historical record, he added.</p><p>These results were <a href="https://www.nature.com/articles/s41598-020-78933-8" target="_blank">published in December in <em>Scientific Reports</em></a>.</p><p>"It's nice to see the longevity and the history of coppice-with-standards," said <a href="https://www.teagasc.ie/contact/staff-directory/s/ian-short/" target="_blank">Ian Short</a>, a forestry researcher at Teagasc, the Agriculture and Food Development Authority in Ireland, not involved in the research. This technique is valuable because it promotes conservation and habitat biodiversity, Short said. "In the next 10 or 20 years, I think we'll see more coppice-with-standards coming back into production."</p><p>In the future, Muigg and his collaborators hope to analyze a larger sample of historic timbers to trace how the coppice-with-standards practice spread throughout Europe. It will be interesting to understand where this technique originated and how it propagated, said Muigg, and there are plenty of old pieces of wood waiting to be analyzed. "There [are] tons of dendrochronological data."</p><p><em><a href="mailto:firstname.lastname@example.org" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">Katherine Kornei</a> is a freelance science journalist covering Earth and space science. Her bylines frequently appear in Eos, Science, and The New York Times. Katherine holds a Ph.D. in astronomy from the University of California, Los Angeles.</em></p><p><em>This story originally appeared in <a href="https://eos.org/articles/tree-rings-reveal-how-ancient-forests-were-managed" target="_blank">Eos</a></em> <em>and is republished here as part of Covering Climate Now, a global journalism collaboration strengthening coverage of the climate story.</em></p>
Earth's ice is melting 57 percent faster than in the 1990s and the world has lost more than 28 trillion tons of ice since 1994, research published Monday in The Cryosphere shows.
By Jewel Fraser
Noreen Nunez lives in a middle-class neighborhood that rises up a hillside in Trinidad's Tunapuna-Piarco region.