China Dominates Solar Energy
Between 2008 and 2013, China's fledgling solar-electric panel industry dropped world prices by 80 percent, a stunning achievement in a fiercely competitive high-tech market. China had leapfrogged from nursing a tiny, rural-oriented solar program in the 1990s to become the globe's leader in what may soon be the world's largest renewable energy source.
China's move eclipsed the leadership of the U.S. solar industry, which invented the technology, still holds many of the world's patents and led the industry for more than three decades. Just how China accomplished that and why it did is still a matter of concern and debate among U.S. experts.
China's new dominance of nearly all aspects of solar use and manufacturing-markets that are predicted to expand by 13 percent a year, according to the report-came through a "unique, complex and interdependent set of circumstances" that is not likely to be repeated.
The timeline of China's rise began in the late 1990s when Germany, overwhelmed by the domestic response to a government incentive program to promote rooftop solar panels, provided the capital, technology and experts to lure China into making solar panels to meet the German demand.
China, according to Chung, had "dabbled" in solar energy only as a source of electricity to help impoverished rural areas remote from its power grid. But then some of its pioneering companies became intrigued by the income that manufacturing solar panels for export to Germany might bring in. When Spain and Italy began their own rapidly expanding solar incentives, adding to the demand, China began scouring the world, hiring more solar experts and shopping for machinery and polysilicon supplies to meet the expected surge of orders for solar panels.
China's solar companies have shareholders who want profits, Chung said. But the government "has other constituencies that are demanding jobs and factories to be put up." That pressure came from provincial and local governments that found, according to DOE, that the federal government was willing to chip in as much as $47 billion to help build its solar manufacturing into what it calls a "strategic industry."