The Sleeping Dragon… Sleeps

by | Jan 23, 2014

“The sleeping dragon has awoken”, says Bloomberg New Energy Finance (BNEF).

23 January 2014

Last year was a record year for PV installation worldwide, with a rush of activity in China on the back of a national feed-in tariff one of the main drivers

Beijing and Zurich, 23 January 2014 – China’s solar developers installed a record 12GW of photovoltaic projects in 2013, and a booming market at the very end of the year may even have pushed installations up to 14GW. No country has ever added more than 8GW of solar power in a single year prior to 2013, and China’s record outstripped even the most optimistic forecasts of 12 months ago.

But then, China is no ordinary country. It’s massive — home to nearly a fifth of the world’s population. And the capacity of solar PV is dismal. 10%, on average. And of course, the ‘boom’ in China’s PV sector is driven by subsidy:

A CNY 1 (16 US cents) per kWh feed-in tariff for large PV projects connecting to the transmission grid ended on 1 January, creating the year-end rush. China’s National Energy Administration announced earlier this month that there were 12GW of 2013 installations, but this preliminary estimate may be exceeded.

According to this infographic, the price of electricity in China is 8 US cents per kwH. So electricity from solar PV in China costs three times as much as electricity produced conventionally. But how much is it really, anyway?

12 Gigawatts of capacity is a lot.

It is 12,000 megawatts…

or 12,000,000 kilowatts…

or 12,000,000,000 watts

But solar PV cells are only about 10% efficient. So that’s

1,200,000,000 watts.

And there are 1.351 billion people in China. So that’s a whopping…

0.89 watts of net capacity per person. And yet…

“The 2013 figures show the astonishing scale of the Chinese market, now the sleeping dragon has awoken” said Jenny Chase, head of solar analysis at Bloomberg New Energy Finance. “PV is becoming ever cheaper and simpler to install, and China’s government has been as surprised as European governments by how quickly it can be deployed in response to incentives.”

The focus on “the scale of the Chinese Market” forgets the scale of China. The Dragon doesn’t even have enough power to sit on standby mode, much less wake itself.

China, however, is, by contrast powering itself. But much debate exists about how.

Founder & CEO of Bloomberg New Energy Finance — which is part news agency, part green energy lobbying organisation, and part environmental NGO — tweeted a challenge to Bjorn Lomborg, who has criticised claims that China is leading the clean energy ‘revolution’.

Michael Liebreich ‏@MLiebreich 2h
@Sustainable2050 And it’s only 16c/kWh. I want to see @BjornLomborg claim the Chinese should burn more coal and eat more smog instead of PV.

Lord Deben — or John Gummer, as he is affectionately known by his critics — joined in the tweeting…

John Deben ‏@lorddeben 1h
@MLiebreich @KeithAllott @Sustainable2050 @BjornLomborg Happily they wouldn’t listen as the Chinese are following the science!

The Chinese are following the science… Says Gummer. Never mind sleeping dragons, the sleep of reason brings forth monsters.

However, a more sober news agency — Reuters — reported recently that,

China approves massive new coal capacity despite pollution fears

BEIJING, Jan 8 (Reuters) – China approved the construction of more than 100 million tonnes of new coal production capacity in 2013 – six times more than a year earlier and equal to 10 percent of U.S. annual usage – flying in the face of plans to tackle choking air pollution.

The scale of the increase, which only includes major mines, reflects Beijing’s aim to put 860 million tonnes of new coal production capacity into operation over the five years to 2015, more than the entire annual output of India.


Chinese coal production of 3.66 billion tonnes at the end of 2012 already accounts for nearly half the global total, according to official data. The figure dwarves production rates of just over 1 billion tonnes each in Europe and the United States.

A tonne of coal can produce about 2000 kilowatt hours of electricity. 3.66 billion tonnes can produce 7,320,000,000,000 kilowatt hours of electricity — or seven hundred times as much as China’s solar PV output. In other words and numbers, the 12GW of solar PV capacity added to China’s grid in 2013 was equivalent to 5.2 million tonnes of coal — around a twentieth of the coal producing capacity it added in the same year.

China’s coal use is projected to increase to nearly 5 billion tonnes by 2020.

The ‘sleeping dragon’ is not going to even open its eyes until the cost of solar PV has been reduced by at least a third, and that’s not even taken into account the costs of intermittent nature of solar power.

As I’ve argued previously on these pages, what environmentalists in general, and green energy evangelists in particular have missing is a sense of proportion.


  1. Mooloo

    China has a lot of people off grid. Start with the actual nomads: Mongols, Tibetans, Kirghiz etc (even when settling, they don’t do it in towns connected to the grid). Add in all those in remote locations. For them solar energy is a godsend, and much to be encouraged.

    Then you have people on the grid, but whose supplies are intermittant, irregular, or very expensive. They are also going to buy solar back-up.

    This is a market in the tens of millions. But it says more about China’s inefficiency/backwardness than it does about its modernity when these people buy solar.

    An analogous situation is the take up of mobile phones in Africa. Their proliferation is a good sign for the Africans, but not a sign that Africa is leading the way in telecommunications!

  2. BoyfromTottenham

    Bloomberg, like many MSM outlets, apparently continues the fine tradition of those firmly in the warmist camp (for whatever reason – e.g. profits), by the highly selective reporting of facts which support their bias (gee, look how much solar PV capacity China is building), but failing to report facts that might support the other side (but it only amounts to a paltry percent of China’s planned coal-fired energy production). I think this fits the definition of “disinformation” or more simply “propaganda”. Is there a yardstick for measuring when a media outlet should no longer be considered to meet the definition of a “news outlet” and cross over into “propaganda machine”? If not, should someone consider creating one?

  3. Craig Loehle

    The innumeracy is intentional. Like claims that 1/5 of women are sexually assaulted (whatever that means–does it include someone whistling at them?) while in college, yet no one seems to personally know a rape victim nor are there many official reports. Noble cause corruption excuses all exaggeration.

  4. Robin Guenier

    Another of Lomborg’s critics was Michael Levi at the Council on Foreign Relations. He makes the point that “Chinese renewables investment is dominated by wind power”. That’s true. But the implication that that somehow marks a significant movement from fossil fuels to renewables is another example of someone without a sense of proportion. Paul Homewood nails it here (he’s referring to a Bloomberg report that China aims to have 100 GW of wind-power installed capacity and 35+ GW of solar power by 2015):
    An extract:

    “We must of course remember that China is a huge country, and therefore must put these numbers into some kind of perspective. So let’s take the 100 gigawatts quoted for wind power and do some sums.

    100 GW x 8760 Hours pa = 876 TWh
    Assuming 25% utilisation of capacity = 219 TWh pa.
    China’s total electricity output in 2011 was 4692 TWh
    So, 219 TWh = 4.7% of total generation

    Last year in the UK, wind power accounted for 5.4% of total power generation, so all of a sudden the Chinese numbers don’t sound quite so impressive.”

    Paul adds this:

    “35 GW of solar is even less impressive, accounting for not much more than 1% of China’s needs.”

  5. Vinny Burgoo

    Anyone who gets excited about Chinese renewables hasn’t been paying attention to Chinese CO2 emissions. On a per capita basis, China’s emissions are now the same as the EU28’s (7 tonnes) and will probably overtake the UK’s in the next couple of years.

    That’s without including the emissions embodied in the evil imported consumer goods that anticlimapitalists like to go on about. If you include those (‘Consumption emission’, below), China’s per capita emissions are indeed a lot lower – about half the EU28’s – but they’re catching up fast, so no refuge there, either.

    Here are a couple of snapshots:

    They’re from this website, which gets its data from CDIAC:

    (Warning: If you’ve got an oldish computer that doesn’t get on very well with badly executed JavaScript, you and it will *hate* that website. An hour later, I’ve still got steam coming out of my ears. If it’s possible to include both the EU28 and named EU countries in the interesting-looking Ranking option on the right, I don’t want to know. I’ve had enough. Kinnell! Grrrr! Ouch! Etc!)

  6. Flat Eric

    Capacity of power generation in MW is almost always expressed as output, not input. So you can’t apply a 10% efficiency factor to get a ‘net capacity’. A 1GW plant almost certainly has the capacity to generate 1GW.

    What you can do is note that it won’t be able to do this all the time. But then, rather than adjust the capacity in GW, you simply multiply by fewer hours to get a figure for GWh energy produced per year.

    Pedantry, I know, but there are so many newspapers cheerfully mixing figures for costs and subsidy per GW or per GWh and it really doesn’t help the debate.



  1. Yet More Solar Lunacy » Climate Resistance - [...] all echoes the claims made by Bloomberg New Energy Finance back in April. “CHINA’S 12GW SOLAR MARKET OUTSTRIPPED ALL…

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