• Chart: China’s solar export dominance grows with surging European orders
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Chart: China’s solar export dominance grows with surging European orders

The country produces 80 percent of the world’s solar panels, and Europe is now buying over half of the panels it exports.
By Eric Wesoff, Maria Virginia Olano

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two factory workers inspect a solar panel under construction in a factory

Canary Media’s chart of the week translates crucial data about the clean energy transition into a visual format.

China has long been the solar module supermarket to the world, and its dominance will only increase in the coming years. Europe, in particular, has become China’s best customer, buying nearly 60 percent of all solar modules exported from China in the first six months of 2023, according to clean-energy think tank Ember.

Solar power markets across the globe — from Africa to Europe to Brazil to the Mideast — are exploding as hardware costs decline and decarbonization efforts become more urgent and widespread.

And China has positioned itself as the indisputable champion when it comes to supplying low-cost solar modules to these markets. The solar-production prowess of North America, Japan and Europe has long been eclipsed by China, which is home to more than 80 percent of global solar manufacturing capacity, and it’s showing no signs of slowing down. Exports of solar panels from China increased by 34 percent in the first half of 2023 compared to the same period last year, growing from 85 gigawatts to 114 gigawatts, according to Ember.

Brazil ranked second behind Europe in importing the most Chinese solar equipment in the first six months of 2023, while Africa had the largest relative growth, nearly tripling its procurement of Chinese solar year-over-year; this trend was largely driven by a rooftop solar surge in South Africa. The Middle East came in third, importing 64 percent more Chinese solar in the first half of 2023 compared to that same time period in 2022.

North America, unsurprisingly, is barely a blip in this dataset, and you can chalk that up to one all-important factor: tariffs. Though the U.S. is installing considerable amounts of solar, the tariffs the country has imposed on solar equipment from China prevent U.S. installers from procuring low-cost Chinese hardware.

After a shaky few years of rising prices and supply-chain disruptions, the always-oscillating solar coaster” has now produced a massive oversupply situation in some parts of the world, which is driving prices down. In fact, solar module prices have fallen more sharply than ever before, according to solar analyst pvXchange. In Europe, there are as many solar panels now languishing in warehouses as the continent installed in all of 2022 due to an unprecedented PV module glut.”

Global solar installations have to grow fivefold by 2030 to meet decarbonization goals, according to Ember, and as this data suggests, it’s not insufficient manufacturing capacity that’s holding back the market. It’s headwinds such as interconnection delays, tariffs, workforce issues and utility opposition.

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Eric Wesoff is editorial director at Canary Media.

Maria Virginia Olano is editorial producer at Canary Media.