Twenty years ago China had virtually no solar panels. Today the country has a quarter of the world’s total, according to the International Energy Agency, a research group. That includes a 1km “solar highway”—a road paved with panels capable of powering 800 homes—and a 250-acre solar farm shaped like two smiling pandas. The country plans to build a solar-power plant in space to capture the sun’s energy and beam it back to Earth. Investment on such a scale has made solar power cheaper: Chinese cities now pay less for it than for grid electricity. Other countries have accused China of dumping subsidised panels in their markets.
But the solar spending spree is slowing. Last year the Chinese government slashed investment subsidies. In April it said it would give priority to wind and solar projects that can generate power at the lowest prices. (China also has a third of the world’s wind turbines.) This has contributed to a fall of 60% in Chinese investment in renewable energy in the past two years. American clean-energy investment has also declined. In Europe, greenish countries such as France, Germany and the Netherlands are spending less, especially on relatively expensive projects such as offshore wind. Spain, which unveiled a renewable-energy plan in December, has picked up some of the slack.
Although investment in clean energy is down, production of it continues to rise. A dollar’s worth of solar-power investment yields about four times as much capacity as it did ten years ago. The capital costs of wind energy have fallen similarly. Over the decade, renewable-energy capacity has quadrupled. Half of that increase was from solar. Yet renewables are still a long way from replacing fossil fuels. That is especially true of coal in Asia. Despite China’s efforts to go green, it remains the world’s biggest consumer and producer of coal, which still accounts for three-fifths of its energy mix. India is building lots of coal-fired power plants; in South-East Asia the share of coal in electricity generation is on the rise. The world’s fuel palette still has too much black and too little green.
This article is from our Graphic detail section.