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Beijing sets low wind and solar power targets in quest for sustainability

China’s wind and solar sectors are expected to see sharply slower growth in the next five years if the regulator’s latest development targets are anything to go by.

At a press conference in Beijing on Monday, the National Energy Administration said the goal for the country’s wind power generating capacity was set at a minimum of 210 gigawatts by 2020, compared with 129GW that were already installed at the end of last year. For solar power, the targeted installed capacity is 110GW, up from 43.2GW.

The figures mean a total of only 148GW of solar and wind farm additions are planned for the five years to 2020, or an average of 29.6GW per year. This is just half of the industry executives’ estimated installations of as much as 59.6GW for this year.

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“[The announced goals] are a significant reduction from the original ones although there has been speculation about such cutbacks since May,” Frank Haugwitz, the founder of Asia Europe Clean Energy (Solar) Advisory, told the South China Morning Post. “I am not sure if this is conservative, but realistic for sure.”

He said that by reining in breakneck growth in the wind and solar industries, the agency was trying to avoid the “boom-and-bust cycles” they had experienced in the past so as to restore more sustainable growth.

The rapid growth has led to major wastage of power output that could not be absorbed by the power grids and a ballooning of subsidies in arrears.

To cool expansion, the regulator has proposed substantially cutting power tariff subsidies for the sectors and forced developers to bid for new projects so as to drive down cost and push the industry players to pursue technological advancements.

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According to China Photovoltaic Industry Association secretary general Wang Bohua’s projection last month, the country’s solar installations could reach 30 to 35GW this year, doubling from last year and setting a new high.

A live poll of seven developers, equipment and parts suppliers at a wind power conference in Beijing last month found that installation volume was expected to drop to 24.6GW this year from last year’s record 30.5GW.

Environmental protection campaigning group Greenpeace said the wind and solar targets were disappointing. “Setting a low target will create uncertainty for new projects,” it said.