The best way to stimulate sustainable energy is to make it available.
And the sharp drop in the prices of photovoltaic systems has made solar energy able to compete with coal energy in China, according to an analysis of researchers published in the journal Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences of the United States of America.
However, as solar energy covers a larger part of the national economy’s electricity grid, it is becoming increasingly difficult to strike a sustainable balance against the fact that solar energy can only generate energy periodically, potentially exacerbating energy management challenges.
The solar resources of China and its people lie on opposite sides of the nation
Once this happens, issues other than price become relevant in deciding how much a country should rely on solar energy. These issues are not identical in all countries, which means building a comprehensive picture of how solar energy will affect each nation, which is why the case of China, a fast-growing community, is particularly enlightening. A recent report found that solar energy, when combined with storage equipment, could cover almost half of the country’s energy needs by approximately 2050.
Like other countries, China has seen a drop in the price of solar energy over the last decade, where between 2011 and 2018 the price fell by 63%. In response to its declining price, the solar installation has risen to unprecedented levels. At the time of writing, one-third of all new solar capacity in the world is being commissioned in China, where the plant exceeds the solar capacity of the United States in 2013. and then Germany in 2015. China now has 250 GW of assets, much more than double what it had previously forecast so far. And since China has ambitions to reach zero emissions by 2060, that probably won’t stop there.
However, the majority of the Chinese population lives in its southeastern region, on the other side of the best solar resources in the country, in the northwestern regions, where sunny days are cloudless. Not many people live there, and this geographical mismatch between supply and demand has created unique solar constraints as China faces the engineering nightmare of building a reliable network which transmits the lion’s share of its power over great distances, to the other side of the country. Solar power plants located in the northwest have often gone bankrupt because they lack the capacity to send this energy where it is needed.
China’s less reliance on coal can save lives
Therefore, researchers have constructed a model that examines most of the factors influencing solar productivity, according to a report from Ars Technica. The model takes into account the economy, changing technology, solar resources and the projected state of China’s electricity grid from 2020 to 2060. Six years of satellite meteorological data have helped to assess typical productivity levels across the country, in addition to data on existing use of land, which can be confused with today’s solar farm sites.
This model generates what researchers have called “technical potential,” which is the amount of solar energy that could be produced if all available sites have been launched to produce it. In 2020, China’s technical potential was just under 100 five-hour hours, or approximately 13 times the country’s electricity demand. And as technology continues to advance, researchers estimate that the technical potential could reach nearly 150 PW-hours by 2060, which would coincide with China’s goal of zero emissions. It will be interesting to see how China manages its various resources as coal becomes less stimulated than solar, especially because most of the world’s renewable energy materials, including wind turbines, batteries and solar panels, come from China. As a close third, it may be cool that reduced pollution due to less coal reliance power will save lives.