In October of last year China's State Grid Company released a new policy encouraging solar grid connections for individual households. With a new warehouse in Shunyi, on the outskirts of Beijing, we here at Greenpeace East Asia decided to take advantage of this policy and have solar panels installed on the warehouse's rooftop. Our hope? To test just how easy (or hard) it is for Chinese individuals and business owners to switch to solar.
After a month and a half application process we were approved by the State Grid and successfully installed 65 square meters of solar panels. When operating to full capacity they will generate around 5 kWh of electricity per hour. By day's end – with clear weather - it will total around 25 kWh. To give you a sense of scale an average urban Chinese family consumes about 10 kWh per day.
Solar panel owners are given options as to whether the energy their panels generate feeds back into the grid. We elected to consume electricity generated on-site with surplus fed back to grid, the most typical model. However the question of payment for this energy has yet to be adequately resolved. The government has said a dedicated price mechanism is in the works, but in its absence the price of every kilowatt hour generated by these solar panels is only on par with a much lower coal power price benchmark - about one third of that currently being offered to large concentrated solar farms (currently at 1 yuan/kWh). Our hopes are that the government will release a specific feed-in tariff as soon as possible to make the price rate of distributed solar at least on the same level as large solar farms.
Our solar panel project became part of the first batch of 119 grid connection applicants in the country and signifies pioneering steps into distributed solar. According to statistics from the Energy Foundation there are 316 million square meters of south-facing rooftops across China. In short, an abundance of solar rooftop resources currently not in use!
In contrast to Chinese coal plants, belching pollutants into the sky and having to deliver electricity over 200 km away to Chinese homes, distributed solar (defined by State Grid policy as projects smaller than 6MW) is an efficient, clean and empowering way for individuals to fulfil their own energy needs. As more and more households sign on for solar, we'll hopefully begin to see the heavily populated Eastern Chinese cities wean off their addiction to the coal power of the country's Northwest.
Living in China and looking to make the switch?
First call 95598, the State Grid’s hotline, and file an application. Required information includes: scale of the project, location and voltage. Applicants must also choose between three grid connection models: 1) use all electricity generated; 2) use as much as electricity generated with surplus feedback to grid; 3) feed all electricity generated to the grid. The State Grid provides assistance with this process. From start to finish this process took 1.5 months, and is expected to shorten as the Grid becomes more experienced in processing applications.
As for installation with consideration to the size of our building, construction only took about 2.5 days: one to set up the panel brackets and another day and a half to install the panels and wires. With professional installation companies the whole experience is not much different from, say renovating your home or install a solar water heater.