Published online by Cambridge University Press: 08 June 2019
From modest beginnings, China’s renewable energy sector is today the world’s largest. We contrast the evolution of China’s solar and wind sectors, with an eye to the effect of differences in technology, government policies, and markets. In solar, relatively modest barriers to entry and returning Chinese with industry experience, combined with rapid growth in overseas demand and high quality standards to propel the sector forward. Localization of the supply chain lowered costs and conferred important advantages on the largely private sector, much as it had done in other successful export sectors in the electronic industry. In sharp contrast, the growth of China’s wind turbine sector has been tied to a “government-made” domestic market and highly protectionist measures favoring local firms. Although there are signs of upgrading, the sector remains SOE-dominated throughout the value chain, and uncompetitive internationally. Moving forward fortunes of solar and wind turbine manufacturers will be tied to an increasingly crowded domestic electricity market in which excess capacity, lackluster demand growth and regulatory issues are the new normal. In this setting, political connections rather than firm capability will determine winners and losers. The experience of the renewable sector reveals both the strengths and weaknesses of China’s industrial policy.