China's Solar Industry and its Global Implications

China dominates and defines a growing global market for solar power. That market faces a stark dichotomy. Solar energy’s prospects as a meaningful electricity source are increasingly bright. Yet, amid a global glut of solar panels, the future contours of the industry and the roles of such leading players as the U.S. and China are increasingly unclear. Students in this seminar analyze industry and policy data to assess China’s competitive strengths in the global solar industry. Based on those conclusions, students will suggest finance and policy approaches that the U.S. and China each could adopt so that the two countries operate more strategically in an economically efficient global solar market – and, by extension, a globalizing market for cleaner sources of energy.

Course deliverables vary among students and are based on discussions at the start of the class between the instructors and the students. Some students produce research papers; others develop and analyze key sets of data. Students from graduate programs around the university – the law school and others – as well as, in certain cases, qualified undergraduates — are encouraged to apply. Preference is given to those with demonstrated interests in energy finance and policy, particularly bearing on China, and with fluency in Mandarin, though neither is a firm requirement.

The seminar is part of a broader research project underway at the Steyer-Taylor Center for Energy Policy and Finance. That research, supported by a grant from the U.S. Department of Energy, will produce a comprehensive report in spring 2015 that will be released publicly and explore three key areas of change in China’s solar industry: its intensifying effort to produce technological innovation; its pattern of investment; and its cost structure. The report will assess what the changes in those areas suggest about:

  1. The comparative advantages and disadvantages of China and the U.S. in the globalizing solar industry
  2. Policy and finance approaches that might allow the U.S. to better play to its strengths and that, as a result, might improve the economic efficiency of solar energy globally
  3. Approaches that Chinese executives and officials say they believe might allow China to improve the economic efficiency of solar energy globally.

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Deliverables

This seminar assesses China’s competitive strengths in the global solar industry to suggest finance and policy approaches that could allow the United States and China to operate more strategically in an economically efficient global solar market and, by extension, contribute to a globalizing market for cleaner sources of energy.