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Climate change and energy

China is installing a bewildering, and potentially troublesome, amount of solar capacity

It added almost 10 gigawatts of photovoltaic generation to its grid in the first three months of this year—allow us to provide a little context about how huge that is.

The news: PV Magazine reports that China installed 9.65 gigawatts of solar capacity in the first quarter of 2018. That’s up from around seven gigawatts in the same period during 2016 and 2017.

In context: Peter Gleick, a well-known scientist who works on climate issues at the Pacific Institute in Oakland, California, put those numbers into perspective on Twitter. “This is the power equivalent of 10 giant nuclear plants brought on line in three months,” he explained.

Why it matters: Frankly, it’s an astonishing quantity of solar power provision, and it outstrips predictions of what China was expected to add to its grid in the period by as much as two gigawatts. That reaffirms the nation’s commitment to clean energy—though we shouldn't, perhaps, be surprised, given its track record for building out photovoltaics.

But: As Bloomberg New Energy Finance pointed out last year, there can be too much of a good thing. China has recently found itself struggling with oversupply of solar power. That was expected to become less of a problem, as new installations were forecast to slow down and the grid was expected to be beefed up to support the new capacity. That doesn’t appear to be quite what’s happening.

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