A sunny future: expert elicitation of China's solar photovoltaic technologies

Long T. Lam, Lee Branstetter, Ins L. Azevedo*

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

26 Citations (Scopus)


China has emerged as the global manufacturing center for solar photovoltaic (PV) products. Chinese firms have entered all stages of the supply chain, producing most of the installed solar modules around the world. Meanwhile, production costs are at record lows. The decisions that Chinese solar producers make today will influence the path for the solar industry and its role towards de-carbonization of global energy systems in the years to come. However, to date, there have been no assessments of the future costs and efficiency of solar PV systems produced by the Chinese PV industry. We perform an expert elicitation to assess the technological and non-technological factors that led to the success of China's silicon PV industry as well as likely future costs and performance. Experts evaluated key metrics such as efficiency, costs, and commercial viability of 17 silicon and non-silicon solar PV technologies by 2030. Silicon-based technologies will continue to be the mainstream product for large-scale electricity generation application in the near future, with module efficiency reaching as high as 23% and production cost as low as $0.24/W. The levelized cost of electricity for solar will be around $34/MWh, allowing solar PV to be competitive with traditional energy resources like coal. The industry's future developments may be affected by overinvestment, overcapacity, and singular short-term focus.

Original languageEnglish
Article number034038
JournalEnvironmental Research Letters
Issue number3
Publication statusPublished - Mar 2018


  • China
  • Expert elicitation
  • Solar photovoltaic


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