Poor marks for China’s PV industry


Guest post by Zhang Yingying

Greenpeace and the Chinese Renewable Energy Industries Association (CREIA) jointly released on Wednesday the "Chinese Photovoltaic (PV) Industry Clean Production Report." The report indicates that the current state of clean production in the Chinese solar PV sector is not up to par.

At the end of 2010, the Chinese government published its "Requirements for Entering the Silicon Industry". This was intended to provide clear guidance on site selection, energy consumption, environmental protection and scale for silicon manufacturers. However, according to the Greenpeace and CREIA study, out of the more than 70 silicon manufacturing enterprises the report investigated, less than one-third achieved the energy consumption and environmental protection levels in the clean-production requirements.

In September 2011, the top-tier Chinese photovoltaic manufacturing firm Jinko Solar came under scrutiny when villages in Haining City, in Zhejiang province, filed a complaint claiming environmental damage. An investigation confirmed that Jinko had discharged pollutants into a local river containing more than 10 times the allowable level of flouride. Jinko was fined, forced to stop production and reorganise.

The jointly-released Greenpeace and CREIA report indicates that in the PV manufacturing supply chain, silicon production is the part that uses the most energy. In addition, the silicon tetrachloride, hydrofluoric acid, and other chemicals emitted during the production process are the main culprits of pollution-related accidents. Although this chemical pollution can be mitigated using clean production technology, most small- to mid-scale enterprises don’t have access to this technology, nor do they use clean production methods.

According to a presentation by CREIA spokesperson Chang Yu, an initial investment of several billion yuan is necessary for an enterprise to start using clean production technology and methods. In addition, the length of time to recoup costs and start earning profit is long. As a result, most small- to mid-scale enterprises do not have the ability to move towards cleaner production. Perhaps, then, the future of this industry lies in large-scale enterprise market dominance. "A monopoly is not necessarily a bad thing," says Chang Yu. "Actually, a monopoly might help to achieve cleaner production in the PV industry by lowering manufacturing costs." 

This article is translated and published here as part of our Green Growth project, a collaboration between chinadialogue and The Energy Foundation.

Translated by chinadialouge volunteer Michelle Hertzfeld