Solar to match coal in China by 2016

THE cost of building large-scale solar power plants will match that of coal-fired power stations by 2016, according to solar panel producer Wuxi Suntech Power.

Sadie Davidson

“We are sure that by 2016 – or at the latest 2017 – the levelised cost of solar photovoltaics will be the same as coal-fired generation,” Suntech CEO Eric Luo told clean energy news website RenewEconomy.

“It is going to completely transform the energy market in China.”

Luo predicts the falling costs of building industrial PV infrastructure will revolutionise the industry by 2016, making way for a new big player in the world’s second largest economy.

Coal makes up 69% of China’s energy supply and is the main contributor to the permanent smog that smothers China’s major cities.

The government is said to be determined to reduce China’s reliance on coal before the country’s middle classes take up protest.

The International Energy Agency predicts that China will soon be burning 50% of the world’s total coal consumption.

The cost of extraction of coal is growing as the easily accessible reserves are exhausted.

Meanwhile, solar costs are coming down as the technology is improving through research and investment projects aided by institutions, such as the US military and energy department.

The US National Renewable Energy Laboratory told UK newspaper The Telegraph that scientists could already capture 31.1% of the sun's energy with a 111-volt solar cell and that figure was constantly improving.

Cheap energy storage from flow-batteries will soon overcome the burden of intermittency, allowing solar power systems to absorb the sun’s rays by day and release them overnight.

Luo predicts that the annual rate of solar installations in China will reach 25 gigawatts by 2020.