Solar energy and environmental technology in China

China has experienced a remarkable growth in its economy in the past few decades. However, it did not come without a price. Its environment has suffered from industrial development and urbanization.

In the next few years, China is predicted to become the world’s biggest consumer of energy. At the same time, it will also be the biggest discharger of sewage, carbon dioxide and sulfur dioxide emissions while a growing middle class becomes ever more vocal about environmental concerns.

In response to the growing environmental concerns, the environmental energy sector of China has seen quite a number of developments. However, the many areas of China still have low levels of technology, providing opportunities for foreign products and technologies. In the coming years, it is expected that China will grow its output in environmental protection at an average annual rate of 15 per cent.

China offers investment opportunities especially in the 4 sectors: water purification, solid waste management, emission reduction, soil remediation.

Water Purification

Because of the forecast population growth in China, that will worsen the current water shortage, opportunities in the field of water purification will grow. Compared with the global average of 8,800 m3 per capita, China only has 2,200 m3 per capita of water resources.

The shortage of water and pollution in its natural resource in China are a real concern, and, in order to address these, the Chinese government has promulgated stringent environmental standards. It also threw a huge amount of money in water treatment projects to promote sustainable economic growth.

A key trend in this sector is the development of biological treatment processes with nitrogen and phosphorus removal, as well as increased use of separation, membrane and disinfection technologies, sludge treatment equipment and water reclamation technologies.

Solid Waste Management

Producing 250 million tons a year, China is the largest producer of municipal solid waste (MSW). The country also produces 2 billion tons of industrial waste.

Around 80 per cent of the municipal solid waste is disposed through landfills. There are two stages of waste collection. The waste is collected from houses to local collection areas where the waste is segregated. After which, the wastes is transported for treatment and disposal. The problem is that many companies that are in this business are small firms that do not have technological know-how or finances.

International and safety standards are not met by majority of the landfills in China—only 10 percent. Most landfills are already reaching maximum capacity because of mismanagement. As a result, there is a quite urgent need for upgrading landfills and alternative methods like incineration and waste-to-energy facilities.

There have been series of laws that were passed to address the concern, but they are not always enforced especially in the provincial regulations. Many cities have already planned projects to improve waste management and increase recycling.

Emission Reduction

It is worth noting that the Chinese government has been experiencing a good deal of success in bringing down sulfur dioxide emissions by power plants. Coal-power plants are required by the government to have desulphurization equipment and regulations. In China, Flue gas desulphurization is mainly done using limestone.

In order to see more developments in air pollution control, China is looking for different products for different industries and processes. Large state-owned power companies dominate the market, with foreign companies limited to supplying technology. According to the 2011 China Greentech Report, De-Nox market will develop in a similar fashion. Possibilities for foreign companies remain, with Fuel Tech and Babcock and Wilcox from the U.S. successfully entering the Chinese market.

Soil Remediation

Contaminated sites and surrounding soil is a serious environmental problem that China is facing. These contaminated sites have been utilized to build residential or commercial sites without investigation or cleanup.

In order to assess the situation, the government started a National Soil Survey. The survey also served as a basis for creating a more stringent regulation and future cleanup efforts. Stricter laws have already been drafted and will soon be implemented. Some local governments, like Nanjing, are already implementing stricter regulations locally.

The current focus of China is to acquire knowledge and technology, but the sector might provide opportunities in view of the huge challenge that the country is facing in this field.

Solar Energy in China

China has been a world leader in making solar panels, and it is by far the largest market for solar panels. According to a new report from GTM Research, China will become home to a quarter of the planet’s new energy capacity from solar panels. Solar is one of the country’s new power generating sources.

China is abundant in solar power resources. Two thirds of the country’s area experiences 2,200 or more sunshine hours per year. Its average annual solar radiation level is also in excess of 5,000 MJ/m2. China’s Renewable Energy Law and the Renewable Energy Medium and Long-term Development Plan aim to see China achieve a total solar power capacity of 300 MW in 2010 and 1800 MW by 2020. In western China, the construction of grid-connected solar-power projects will speed up, with solar power generating capacity set at 5 GW.

With 55 gigawatts worth of solar panels installed worldwide, China is forecasted to install 14 gigawatts of solar panels in 2015. Japan is also becoming a major source of solar panel in the world—now a huge market, following the reduction of nuclear energy in the wake of Fukushima crisis. India is also an emerging solar panel market in the Asia Pacific region. 1 gigawatt of solar panel is equivalent to the large size of a natural gas or nuclear plant.

Trends and Developments

A vast majority of solar panels in China are mounted on the ground. These solar panels are installed in remote areas and sold to utilities and are organized into big solar farms. The National Energy Administration of China says that 28.38 gigawatts of solar panels same from the ground-mounted type of solar panels. The percentage is out of the 28.05 gigawatts of solar panels connected to the county’s grid by the end of 2014.

Today, China is buying a huge number of its own panels, giving the country dominance in the global solar economy. According to the National Energy Administration, about a third of the total solar module output from China in 2014 went to solar panel farms installed in China.

According to GTM Research analyst Adam James, a new feed-in tariff program in China drives the new growth in solar panels in the country. Solar generators can be paid a fixed competitive price for the energy created. China’s prospective “Five Year Plan” calls for a good number of solar installation in the next few years.

Solar is considered as a clean way to increase the electricity supply. China is already starting to take very seriously the need to address its massive air pollution crisis. In 2014, the country already closed 3 gigawatts worth of coal power-producing plants. It aims to remove 20 gigawatts of coal capacity over the next five years to decrease air pollution.

Solar PV

China produced 45% of global solar PV in 2009, making it the largest Solar PV manufacturer in the world. Photovoltaic is a method of producing electricity by converting solar radiation into current electricity through semiconductors.

As for its domestic solar market, it has recently been developing, with around 160 MW solar PV installed and connected to grid in 2009. However, it has to potential to become a major market in Asia, in view of the more than 12GW of large projects in the pipeline. The government also aims to increase the solar PV’s installed capacity from 1.8 GW to 20 GW in 2020.

The solar power provides hot water to nearly more than 10 per cent of Chinese households. The solar heater systems have helped improved the availability of hot water, which gives China health and sanitation benefits. This development is within the context of the Eleventh Five-Year Plan for New and Renewable Energy, an Implementation Plan on Promoting Solar Thermal Utilization in China adopted in 2007. The national policy prioritizes major hot water consumers, such as hospitals, schools, restaurants, and swimming pools.

Solar Thermal

China is still experimenting on solar thermal energy. The main obstacles are low efficiency and high development costs. The country’s first solar thermal power project in Hangjinqi Inner Mongolia autonomous region was estimated to cost about 6 billion RMB and would annually generate about 120 million kWh of power. After 2012, solar power generation is set to increase at an annual rate of 1 GW.

To encourage more pilot projects, the authorities will grant 50 per cent subsidy to key equipment. The ministry also announced the first batch of 13 pilot projects, mainly in new development zones in Henan, Anhui, Shandong, Jiangxi, Hubei, Hunan, Hebei, Liaoning and Zhejiang provinces, Beijing, Tianjin, Shanghai, and Shenzhen.

Company Activities

China lists Jiangsu as an important PV solar region. China’s top polysilicon producer, Jiangsu Zhongneng Polysilicon Technology Development Co Ltd, has successfully reduced the cost of polysilicon, which is the main raw material for wafers used in solar and electronics industries.

US based First Solar and China Guangdong Nuclear Solar Energy Ltd (CGN SEDC) signed a MoU to jointly develop the world’s largest solar power plant. First Solar will build a 2000 MW solar power plant in Ordos, Inner Mongolia in the next 10 years.

Yingli Green Energy (Baoding) is also working with ECN and Tempress Systems to implement high efficiency N-type silicon solar cells, named PANDA. China Sunergy has invested1.8 billion RMB in fixed assets to expand the production of solar cells to 1 GW in Jiangsu Province. These cells have an average efficiency of 18.55 percent.

This entry in Asia was updated on 22 May 2021 by specialist.