Solar panel exports from China rose 34% in the first half of 2023, with 114 gigawatts (GW) shipped globally, compared to 85 GW in the same period last year, according to new analysis from energy think tank Ember. We need to get them online as quickly as possible.

Chinese solar exports account for about 80% of the global market share of solar production capacity, so of course this has significant global implications for expanding renewable energy deployment.

“Solar growth is going through the roof,” said Sam Hawkins, head of data at Ember. “The world is racing to harness this cheap, clean and abundant energy source for the economy of the future. It is clear that global production capacity is not currently the limiting factor to achieve the required five-fold growth in solar energy by 2030.”

More than half of the solar modules exported from China in the first half of 2023 went to Europe (52.5%). The region also saw the largest absolute growth in the world: exports from China increased 47% year-on-year (+21 GW), reaching 65 GW total shipped in the first half of 2023, compared to 44 GW in the same period last year. Once installed, this new capacity could meet around 2% of Europe’s annual electricity needs – similar to Belgium’s needs.

Brazil is the second largest importer after Europe, importing 9.5 GW in the first six months of 2023, a similar amount to the same period last year (9.4 GW). However, the strongest growth is taking place in Africa and the Middle East.

South Africa experienced the largest change of any country outside Europe, importing 3.4 GW of solar modules from China in the first six months of 2023, an increase of 438% (+2.7 GW) compared to the same period last year. As a result, Africa recorded an increase of 187% (+3.7 GW), the fastest growing region.

The Middle East was the second fastest relative growth region, with an increase of 64% (+2.4 GW) in the first half of 2023 compared to the same period last year. However, the high growth rates have a very low starting point. Saudi Arabia increased solar imports from China six-fold in the first half of 2023 compared to the previous year, reaching 2.8 GW, while the United Arab Emirates increased imports by 33% to 1.4 GW.

The only region to see lower imports from China during the period was Asia, as India focused on expanding domestic manufacturing capacity.

The US has already reduced Chinese imports to almost zero, sourcing them from Southeast Asia instead. And the Biden administration’s Inflation Reduction Act has spurred significant domestic investment in solar panel manufacturing capacity.

With global production capacity expected to double again by the end of 2024 compared to the end of 2022 as other countries outside of China also increase their domestic production, it is not the global supply of modules that is hindering solar growth, but installed PV capacity . Due to bureaucracy, a shortage of solar installers and the long wait for them to come online, there is a staggering 40 GW of solar panel inventory in European warehouses.

“We have enough solar panels, we just need to get started installing them,” said Sam Hawkins, head of data at Ember. “Guidelines should focus on ensuring that installation and grid integration can progress at the same pace as global module supply.”

Electrek’s take

The European Parliament today sought to ease the years-long solar shortage by passing a requirement that EU states complete the renewable project approval process within 12 months for installations in “areas suitable for renewable energy” and within 24 months for projects outside of these areas must be completed.

In the UK, some new solar and wind projects are expected to wait 10 to 15 years because the grid is not ready to bring them online, and this timescale is ridiculous. This makes 12-24 months seem like cause for celebration.

Read more: Chinese solar giant Trina is opening a 5 GW factory in Texas

Photo: China News Service

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