China’s solar power sector started to boom in recent years – not only in manufacturing, but also in domestic installations – thanks to strong government backing and a favourable policy environment. The rate of growth has stunned the world, as has the falling cost, beating expectations even of industry insiders.
By the end of 2015, China had 43 gigawatts of installed solar power, and had overtaken Germany, another country that saw strong industrial policy supporting solar power, as the global leader. Last year, eight of the top-10 solar PV module manufacturers were Chinese.
But the history is a longer one. The Chinese government has supported research and development (R&D) on solar PV since the 1950s, mainly for its uses in space. A PV module manufacturing industry developed during the 1990s. It remained small and of variable quality but became a crucial part of providing energy access to remote communities. The Brightness Programme, launched in 1996, was the first national policy to bring electricity access to off-grid areas of western China using renewable energy.