China’s “Whole-Country Rooftop Solar”

It’s called “Whole-Country Rooftop Solar,” and it’s a major piece in the puzzle for the global effort to replace carbon-intensive energy production. The policy allowed China to add more than 56GW of rooftop solar power in 2022 alone. 

That’s 65% of China’s total solar installation in 2022. It’s also just a bit below Australia’s entire electricity generation capacity.

How are they doing it? The majority of installations are from units sized 100-200kW. That’s much larger than the kind of system you would see on a suburban house (5-10kW), but much smaller than a commercial-scale development, which in Australia are running to hundreds of megawatts at a single site.

Municipal-level governments are obliged to open tenders to solar providers to install solar on rooftops of all public buildings and housing complexes. That means all of the district’s schools, hospitals, factories and government buildings.

The provider provides discounted power to the building and sells the rest to the grid. In the case of residential complexes, they pay rent to the residences’ owners.

David Fishman visited one such run-of-the-mill district (by Chinese standards, Zhanqqiu district in Shandong province (population 1.05 million). The winning bidder estimates the district rooftops will reach a yield of 150MW. There are 2,800 county-level districts in China.

Reported capex for the Zhanqqiu district’s installation was A$850/kW. That’s in comparison to approximation A$1,600/kW for large-scale commercial solar projects in Australia (using capex at Darlington Point for the comparison).

China appears on track to reach its goal of surpassing 50% renewable energy by 2025. Approximately 45% of its energy production was renewables at the close of 2021.

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