What's going on?
The International Energy Agency (IEA) warned on Thursday that China’s dominance of the solar panel industry could threaten the clean energy transition.
What does this mean?
Solar energy is going to be crucial if the world wants to reach net-zero emissions by 2050, and the IEA is predicting that it’s on track to account for a third of global electricity generation by then. But a report published by the agency observes that China’s share of solar panel manufacturing – from key materials to the panels themselves – has now topped 80%, and could climb as high as 95% by 2025 (tweet this). That’s risky: any disruption – not least Covid lockdowns – could put major facilities out of action, push prices up, and ultimately slow down the world’s clean energy transition. We’re already seeing that happen: there’s been a 20% rise in panel prices in the past year alone, partly because of Chinese bottlenecks that have resulted in delays to deliveries across the globe.
Why should I care?
The bigger picture: It’s the taking part that counts.
One of the main reasons China has such a big advantage in solar panel manufacturing is because of its much lower energy and labor costs. Most countries won’t be able to match it on that front, but the IEA thinks incentives would still spur more investment in the industry and enable companies to build out alternative supply chains. Europe has even more reason to take action: there are concerns that Russia will turn off the taps to its natural gas completely.
Zooming out: Fool me once…
That’s not the only thing putting climate targets at risk: a collection of airlines have been lobbying for weaker emissions policies, according to a report out this week. This, even though they’ve publicly expressed their full-throated support for governments’ net-zero ambitions. Which begs the question: if we can’t trust faceless corporations that are incentivized by the underpinnings of capitalism to prize profit above literally everything else, who can we trust?