Solar panels are everywhere in the World Expo Shanghai, which promotes alternative energies as part of a better life, but use of solar energy in Shanghai and China itself is still exceedingly low.
Although the solar energy industry has developed rapidly and China is one of the main producers of the world's solar panels, the use of solar energy in Shanghai is still exceedingly low. [Shanghai Daily]
Although the solar energy industry has developed rapidly and China is one of the main producers of the world's solar panels, the vast majority is exported.
"It is quite ironic to see such a small amount of solar energy-generating systems installed in a country with an annual solar cell industrial output amounting for 40 percent of the world's output," says Cui Rongqiang, chairman of Shanghai Solar Energy Association. "More than 98 percent of the output is exported, while no more than 2 percent is used domestically."
While there's been a big push for solar at the Expo, in the rest of Shanghai, the installation is low.
The major reasons are lack of public education and misconceptions about solar power, according to Cui.
Many people believe Shanghai doesn't get enough sunshine year round to make solar energy practical, but Germany gets less solar radio and uses far more solar energy, Cui says.
And many people are still put off by what they consider high installation costs, though these are recouped over time and in the longer term solar power is very cheap and practical.
Solar energy is not that new to Shanghai. Back in the 1970s, Wusong Port used a lighthouse powered by solar energy, according to Cui.
But not much happened until 1999, when the industry started taking off nationwide.
"The solar energy industry has developed rapidly in China in the past 10 years," says Cui. "We have been working on almost every kind of solar water heaters and power generators popular in the world. Our products perfectly meet international quality standards for solar products."
China's annual output of solar water heaters reached 4.2 million square meters in 2009, growing annually at 35.4 percent; the annual output of solar cells reached 4,000 megawatts in 2009, which is more than 40 percent of the world's total output of solar cells, according to "Analysis and Investment Consulting Report on China Solar Energy Photovoltaic Generation Industry, 2010-2015," released by www.ocn.com.cn, a research center focusing on industrial development and investment.
However, the great production of solar cells and water heaters hasn't led to large-scale use of solar energy in China as most is exported, according to Jiang Qian, the company's energy sector investment adviser.
Only 40mw of solar energy power-generating systems were installed in China in 2008, amounting to just 0.73 percent of the world's total; and only 150mw were installed in 2009, which only amounted to 2.5 percent of the global total - despite the fact that China's production was 40 percent of global production.
The same is true with the solar industry in Shanghai, though preparations for the Expo have promoted use of solar energy. About 4.7mw of solar power generation were installed in Expo construction, including the China Pavilion and Theme Pavilion.
But few solar power systems or solar water-heating systems are used in residential housing. Solar power is more popular in nearby Jiangsu and Zhejiang provinces.
"We have advanced techniques and quality products, but many people hesitate to make full use of them," says Cui, addressing his concerns.
"Shanghai definitely doesn't get as much sunshine as California, but it gets much more heat from solar radiation than Germany and Japan, which both have high solar coverage rates," he says.
Shanghai gets a yearly average of 4,600-4,700 megajoule of heat from solar radiation, about 20 percent higher than most German cities, he says.
But Germany is expanding use of solar energy; about 3.8 gigawatts were installed in 2009 alone, and 9.8gw had been installed nationwide by the end of 2009.