Solar PV and solar water heaters in China: Different pathways to low carbon energy

Journal Article

by Frauke Urban, Sam Geall and Yu Wang

This review paper examines pathways towards solar energy in China by examining two different solar energy technologies, namely solar photovoltaic (PV) and solar water heaters (SWH). The paper investigates these two case studies to understand how different pathways for low carbon innovation are promoted and challenged by China’s changing financing and policy-making, and how they relate to changing practices among producers and consumers. The paper finds two distinct approaches to solar energy. Chinese solar PV is predominantly produced for the export market, relies on intellectual property-intensive technology and has received much financial and political support from the central and provincial governments. On the other side, solar water heaters are an indigenous Chinese technology that is found everywhere across China, especially in rural areas. They have developed from grass-roots levels to mass products with very little central government support. Although being largely absent from high-level discussions and policies, solar water heaters could contribute a lot to China’s low carbon transitions that are driven at the local level.