tutor2u | China's solar energy boom

In the News

China's solar energy boom

Jo Coles

31st January 2019

Datong County in northern China is the proud location of two giant pandas, made from thousands of solar panels! This mega-solar farm covers 248acres and generates 100megawatts (MW) combined

This is not the only massive installation. In December 2018, the first 100 MW solar plant opened in Dunhuang City, Gansu Province with a potential to generate up to 390million kilowatt hours (kWh) of electricity per year.

Solar energy is booming in China. The nation has a vested interest in investing in solar energy, since it produces most of the world’s solar panels and has an economic drive to generate business both domestic and international.

China’s economy is rapidly growing, with consequences such as rapidly increasing greenhouse gas emissions and energy consumption. So there is a need to add more renewable energy sources to the energy mix. However, 2/3 of the country’s electricity still comes from burning coal.

China has huge potential to maximise solar energy farms due to its physical geographical features, namely climate and relief. The vast north and north-western plains have plenty of space, and a reliable supply of solar energy. However, they are far from the major population centres – which are predominantly on the eastern coast. This means the distribution of energy and electricity to the population centres and industrial zones is problematic. Huge amounts of power is lost along the vast transmission lines.

There is a focus from Chinese government to invest in infrastructure in remote zones – particularly politically sensitive areas such as around Tibet. Interestingly, one scheme uses solar panels to heat an underground grid designed to melt permafrost, in the hopes that the reclaimed land will become suitable for farming and afforestation.

With all this influx of development in solar energy, China is expected to have a sudden boom of solar panel waste to deal with from 2040 onwards – and this is a problem. Solar panels must be broken up, and it is hard to recycle them because they contain harmful chemicals like sulphuric acid. Similarly, China is a large producer of polysilicon used in first generation solar cells around the world which produces poisonous silicon tetrachloride as a by-product. This costs a huge $84’500 per tonne to properly recycle.


  • China produces 60% of the world’s solar panels
  • China has been the world’s largest manufacturer of solar panels since 2008
  • The largest solar plant in the world is in the Tengger Desert, China (1500 megawatts capacity)
  • The first 100Megawatt solar plant opened in China in December 2018
  • China has more solar energy capacity than any other country
  • China met its 2020 target for solar energy capacity three years early, in 2017
  • 94% of China’s population live in the eastern zone of China, whereas the distribution of wind and solar energy resources is in the west
  • The government-run renewable energy fund is in debt to more than $15billion so investment in infrastructure is lacking to maximise the potential of these energy sources
  • China’s goal for solar energy is to reach 1’300GW of combined solar capacity
  • Solar panels only last about 30 years, after which there is a waste & replacement problem
  • Despite all the investment, due to the large population size the energy per capita in China is just 58 watts





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