China's Dominance in the Solar Panel Supply Chain
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Visualizing China’s Dominance in the Solar Panel Supply Chain

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visualization of global solar pv panel manufacturing capacity by country/region.

China’s Dominance in the Solar Panel Supply Chain

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Many governments are investing in renewable energy sources like solar power, but who controls the manufacturing of solar photovoltaic (PV) panels?

As it turns out, China owns the vast majority of the world’s solar panel supply chain, controlling at least 75% of every single key stage of solar photovoltaic panel manufacturing and processing.

This visualization shows the shares held by different countries and regions of the key stages of solar panel manufacturing, using data from the International Energy Agency (IEA).

Solar Panel Manufacturing, by Country and Stage

From polysilicon production to soldering finished solar cells and modules onto panels, China has the largest share in every stage of solar panel manufacturing.

Even back in 2010, the country made the majority of the world’s solar panels, but over the past 12 years, its average share of the solar panel supply chain has gone from 55% to 84%.

China also continues to lead in terms of investment, making up almost two-thirds of global large-scale solar investment. In the first half of 2022, the country invested $41 billion, a 173% increase from the year before.

Country/RegionSolar Panel DemandAverage Share of Solar Panel Manufacturing Capacity
China36.4%84.0%
Europe16.8%2.9%
North America17.6%2.8%
Asia-Pacific13.2%9.1%
India6.9%1.3%
Rest of the World9.1%0.8%

Source: IEA
Note: Percentages may not add up to 100% due to rounding

After China, the next leading nation in solar panel manufacturing is India, which makes up almost 3% of solar module manufacturing and 1% of cell manufacturing. To help meet the country’s goal of 280 gigawatts (GW) of installed solar power capacity by 2030 (currently 57.9 GW), in 2022 the Indian government allocated an additional $2.6 billion to its production-linked incentive scheme that supports domestic solar PV panel manufacturing.

Alongside China and India, the Asia-Pacific region also makes up significant amounts of solar panel manufacturing, especially modules and cells at 15.4% and 12.4% respectively.

While Europe and North America make up more than one-third of the global demand for solar panels, both regions make up an average of just under 3% each across all stages of actually manufacturing solar panels.

Too Little Too Late to Diversify?

China’s dominance of solar photovoltaic panel manufacturing is not the only stranglehold the country has on renewable energy infrastructure and materials.

When it comes to wind, in 2021 China built more offshore wind turbines than all other countries combined over the past five years, and the country is also the leading producer and processor of the rare earth minerals essential for the magnets that power turbine generators.

In its full report on solar panel manufacturing, the IEA emphasized the importance of distributing global solar panel manufacturing capacity. Recent unexpected manufacturing halts in China have resulted in the price of polysilicon rising to 10-year highs, revealing the world’s dependence on China for the supply of key materials.

As the world builds out its solar and wind energy capacity, will it manage to avoid repeating Europe’s mistakes of energy import overdependence when it comes to the materials and manufacturing of renewable energy infrastructure?

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Energy

Charted: 40 Years of Global Energy Production, by Country

Here’s a snapshot of global energy production, and which countries have produced the most fossil fuels, nuclear, and renewable energy since 1980.

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The Biggest Energy Producers since 1980

Energy was already a hot topic before 2022, but soaring household energy bills and a cost of living crisis has brought it even more to the forefront.

Which countries are the biggest energy producers, and what types of energy are they churning out? This graphic by 911 Metallurgist gives a breakdown of global energy production, showing which countries have used the most fossil fuels, nuclear, and renewable energy since 1980.

All figures refer to the British thermal unit (BTU), equivalent to the heat required to heat one pound of water by one degree Fahrenheit.

Editor’s note: Click on any graphic to see a full-width version that is higher resolution

1. Fossil Fuels

Biggest Producers of Fossil Fuel since 1980

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While the U.S. is a dominant player in both oil and natural gas production, China holds the top spot as the world’s largest fossil fuel producer, largely because of its significant production and consumption of coal.

Over the last decade, China has used more coal than the rest of the world, combined.

However, it’s worth noting that the country’s fossil fuel consumption and production have dipped in recent years, ever since the government launched a five-year plan back in 2014 to help reduce carbon emissions.

2. Nuclear Power

Biggest Producers of Nuclear Energy since 1980

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The U.S. is the world’s largest producer of nuclear power by far, generating about double the amount of nuclear energy as France, the second-largest producer.

While nuclear power provides a carbon-free alternative to fossil fuels, the nuclear disaster in Fukushima caused many countries to move away from the energy source, which is why global use has dipped in recent years.

Despite the fact that many countries have recently pivoted away from nuclear energy, it still powers about 10% of the world’s electricity. It’s also possible that nuclear energy will play an expanded role in the energy mix going forward, since decarbonization has emerged as a top priority for nations around the world.

3. Renewable Energy

Biggest Producers of Renewable Energy

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Renewable energy sources (including wind, hydro, and solar) account for about 23% of electricity production worldwide. China leads the front on renewable production, while the U.S. comes in second place.

While renewable energy production has ramped up in recent years, more countries will need to ramp up their renewable energy production in order to reach net-zero targets by 2050.

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Energy

What is the Cost of Europe’s Energy Crisis?

As European gas prices soar, countries are introducing policies to try and curb the energy crisis.

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What is the Cost of Europe’s Energy Crisis?

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Europe is scrambling to cut its reliance on Russian fossil fuels.

As European gas prices soar eight times their 10-year average, countries are introducing policies to curb the impact of rising prices on households and businesses. These include everything from the cost of living subsidies to wholesale price regulation. Overall, funding for such initiatives has reached $276 billion as of August.

With the continent thrown into uncertainty, the above chart shows allocated funding by country in response to the energy crisis.

The Energy Crisis, In Numbers

Using data from Bruegel, the below table reflects spending on national policies, regulation, and subsidies in response to the energy crisis for select European countries between September 2021 and July 2022. All figures in U.S. dollars.

CountryAllocated Funding Percentage of GDPHousehold Energy Spending,
Average Percentage
🇩🇪 Germany$60.2B1.7%9.9%
🇮🇹 Italy$49.5B2.8%10.3%
🇫🇷 France$44.7B1.8%8.5%
🇬🇧 U.K.$37.9B1.4%11.3%
🇪🇸 Spain$27.3B2.3%8.9%
🇦🇹 Austria$9.1B2.3%8.9%
🇵🇱 Poland$7.6B1.3%12.9%
🇬🇷 Greece$6.8B3.7%9.9%
🇳🇱 Netherlands$6.2B0.7%8.6%
🇨🇿 Czech Republic$5.9B2.5%16.1%
🇧🇪 Belgium$4.1B0.8%8.2%
🇷🇴 Romania$3.8B1.6%12.5%
🇱🇹 Lithuania$2.0B3.6%10.0%
🇸🇪 Sweden$1.9B0.4%9.2%
🇫🇮 Finland$1.2B0.5%6.1%
🇸🇰 Slovakia$1.0B1.0%14.0%
🇮🇪 Ireland$1.0B0.2%9.2%
🇧🇬 Bulgaria$0.8B1.2%11.2%
🇱🇺 Luxembourg$0.8B1.1%n/a
🇭🇷 Croatia$0.6B1.1%14.3%
🇱🇻 Lativia$0.5B1.4%11.6%
🇩🇰 Denmark$0.5B0.1%8.2%
🇸🇮 Slovenia$0.3B0.5%10.4%
🇲🇹 Malta$0.2B1.4%n/a
🇪🇪 Estonia$0.2B0.8%10.9%
🇨🇾 Cyprus$0.1B0.7%n/a

Source: Bruegel, IMF. Euro and pound sterling exchange rates to U.S. dollar as of August 25, 2022.

Germany is spending over $60 billion to combat rising energy prices. Key measures include a $300 one-off energy allowance for workers, in addition to $147 million in funding for low-income families. Still, energy costs are forecasted to increase by an additional $500 this year for households.

In Italy, workers and pensioners will receive a $200 cost of living bonus. Additional measures, such as tax credits for industries with high energy usage were introduced, including a $800 million fund for the automotive sector.

With energy bills predicted to increase three-fold over the winter, households in the U.K. will receive a $477 subsidy in the winter to help cover electricity costs.

Meanwhile, many Eastern European countries—whose households spend a higher percentage of their income on energy costs— are spending more on the energy crisis as a percentage of GDP. Greece is spending the highest, at 3.7% of GDP.

Utility Bailouts

Energy crisis spending is also extending to massive utility bailouts.

Uniper, a German utility firm, received $15 billion in support, with the government acquiring a 30% stake in the company. It is one of the largest bailouts in the country’s history. Since the initial bailout, Uniper has requested an additional $4 billion in funding.

Not only that, Wien Energie, Austria’s largest energy company, received a €2 billion line of credit as electricity prices have skyrocketed.

Deepening Crisis

Is this the tip of the iceberg? To offset the impact of high gas prices, European ministers are discussing even more tools throughout September in response to a threatening energy crisis.

To reign in the impact of high gas prices on the price of power, European leaders are considering a price ceiling on Russian gas imports and temporary price caps on gas used for generating electricity, among others.

Price caps on renewables and nuclear were also suggested.

Given the depth of the situation, the chief executive of Shell said that the energy crisis in Europe would extend beyond this winter, if not for several years.

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