China’s Dominance in the Solar Panel Supply Chain
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.
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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