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Photovoltaic power generation illuminates rural roads in the new era

“Promote the consolidation and upgrading of rural power grid, and develop rural renewable energy”, this is an important deployment in the No. 1 Central document in 2023. As our “double carbon” goal continues to advance, the role of clean and renewable energy in our future energy transformation has become increasingly prominent. Among them, the development status and prospect of photovoltaic has attracted much attention. How to promote the development of distributed photovoltaic in rural areas and consolidate the achievements of photovoltaic poverty alleviation? The research group of Shanghai Jiao Tong University conducted a special investigation on this topic.

On the whole, our country is one of the countries with the richest solar energy resources in the world, and the development potential of photovoltaic is huge. By the end of 2022, the cumulative grid-connected capacity of photovoltaic power generation in China was 392.04GW (gigawatt, installed capacity unit, 1 GW =1 million kW), of which distributed photovoltaic power generation was 157.62GW. In 2022, 87.4GW of grid-connected photovoltaic power generation capacity was added, including 51.11GW of distributed photovoltaic power.

In order to understand the development status of distributed PV in rural areas and users’ demands, recently, a research group from Shanghai Jiao Tong University conducted household surveys in 289 villages in 31 provinces (autonomous regions and municipalities directly under the Central Government), comprehensively analyzed 937 individual questionnaires and 170 interviews with village committee workers, and explored and analyzed the development achievements, practical difficulties and future potential of distributed PV. In order to promote the “thousands of households Mu light action”, high quality to achieve the national carbon peak carbon neutral goal to provide empirical reference and policy recommendations.

Outstanding results of photovoltaic into thousands of villages and households

Located in the hinterland of Dabie Mountains, Jinzhai County, Lu ‘an City, Anhui Province, is the largest and most populous mountainous county in the province. On April 29, 2020, Jinzhai County officially took off the title of “poor county” and entered a new stage of development. In the process of poverty alleviation, photovoltaic poverty alleviation has injected new vitality into Jinzhai and benefited the villagers a lot.

“We only need to pay 8,000 yuan. The rest of the cost is subsidized by the government. The government also installs the equipment for us. Who would not welcome such a good thing?” Speaking of photovoltaic poverty alleviation projects, a villager in Jinzhai County gives a thumbs up. In 2015, organized and mobilized by the village’s “two committees”, the villager joined the photovoltaic poverty alleviation project and installed nearly 20 square meters of photovoltaic panels on the roof of his house. Since its installation, the photovoltaic power generation unit has generated annual revenue of more than 3,000 yuan, which has been paid back in just two years. The steady income that “fell from the sky” has greatly improved the living conditions of the villager’s family. When asked how satisfied he is with the service, he gives a simple smile: “Satisfied, very satisfied!”

Photovoltaic poverty alleviation, as one of the top 10 targeted poverty alleviation projects, has made important contributions to winning the battle against poverty as scheduled.

The policy system has played the role of overall planning and achieved remarkable results in poverty alleviation. In October 2014, the National Energy Administration and the former Leading Group Office of Poverty Alleviation and Development of The State Council jointly issued the Work Plan on the Implementation of Photovoltaic Poverty Alleviation Projects, deciding to organize the implementation of photovoltaic poverty alleviation projects within six years and making arrangements for specific work, opening a new chapter for photovoltaic poverty alleviation and development. Subsequently, a series of specification class, support class documents issued in succession. From standardizing the land for photovoltaic power generation industry to improving the technical indicators of photovoltaic products, from “Opinions on the Implementation of photovoltaic power generation poverty alleviation Work” to the whole county roof distributed photovoltaic development pilot, with the pilot to drive the whole, to build a complete system of photovoltaic poverty alleviation. During the “13th Five-Year Plan” period, the state has promulgated a number of policies related to preferential electricity prices, fund management and income distribution to escort photovoltaic poverty alleviation. With the strong support of the state, China’s photovoltaic poverty alleviation project construction task has been fully completed. According to the statistics of the National Energy Administration, by 2020, China has built a total of 2636GW photovoltaic poverty alleviation power stations, benefiting nearly 60,000 poor villages and 4.15 million poor households, generating power generation income of about 18 billion yuan per year, and corresponding placement of 1.25 million public welfare posts. Remarkable achievements have been made in photovoltaic poverty alleviation.

Expand photovoltaic poverty alleviation mode according to local conditions and boost industrial development. In the process of promoting the implementation of photovoltaic poverty alleviation, local governments have constantly innovated photovoltaic poverty alleviation models according to the living conditions and actual development needs of villagers, forming three main paths: rooftop distributed power stations, village-level photovoltaic power stations and photovoltaic greenhouse power stations. Roof distributed photovoltaic brings fixed income to villagers; The photovoltaic poverty alleviation power station at the village level not only strengthens the collective economy of the village and increases the annual dividend of villagers by selling electricity, but also provides the villagers with job opportunities such as cleaning and maintenance. On the basis of agricultural greenhouses, photovoltaic greenhouse power stations use the roof of greenhouses to generate electricity, comprehensively promote industrial upgrading, and inject new vitality into poverty alleviation and development with the new model of “complementarity between agriculture and light”. During the period of poverty alleviation, local governments adapted to local conditions and selected appropriate photovoltaic poverty alleviation models based on actual development conditions to effectively empower poverty alleviation work.

Based on the long-term development plan, we will implement targeted poverty alleviation. Photovoltaic poverty alleviation is a vivid practice of “giving fish to people is better than giving fish to people”. With registered poor households as the main target, it achieves both “hematopoietic” and “blood transfusion”. Based on the characteristics of “no funds, no ability to work, no skills” of some rural poor people, a targeted and efficient assistance system has been formed. For example, during the period of poverty alleviation, Shangzhou District of Shangluo City in Shaanxi Province carried out several rounds of assistance to ensure that families not lifted out of poverty continue to enjoy photovoltaic dividends, families already lifted out of poverty withdraw from assistance in an orderly manner, and newly generated poor households are timely included in the subsidy system, thus achieving “precise target of support” and “precise use of funds”.

Green electricity contributes to energy transformation

At present, China is in a new stage of development, and it is urgent to achieve the “double carbon” goal. A series of important strategies, such as rural revitalization and common prosperity, are being pushed forward rapidly. The development of distributed photovoltaic can promote energy transformation, effectively consolidate the achievements of photovoltaic poverty alleviation, and help realize the national “double carbon” goal in many ways.

Photovoltaic green electricity promotes clean energy transformation and improves living environment. The vast area and low population density in rural areas, idle roofs and abundant land resources in rural areas provide innate convenience for the construction of distributed photovoltaic power generation. Therefore, photovoltaic has become the main force of clean energy in rural areas. Photovoltaic poverty alleviation, with the application of renewable energy such as solar and photovoltaic in rural life as an important starting point, has effectively reversed the original energy consumption pattern of “every household has smoke, every household has pollution sources” in rural areas. It is of great significance for promoting the transformation of green and low-carbon energy structure, realizing energy conservation and emission reduction in rural production and life, improving the ecological well-being of the people, and helping to realize the “double carbon” goal. In addition, the “self-use” mode of photovoltaic power generation greatly reduces transmission losses and saves transmission costs, facilitates the transformation of rural power grid, and provides support and guarantee for improving the basic stability of rural power grid.

The income policy of photovoltaic power generation will release dividends and contribute to common prosperity. Distributed

photovoltaic subsidies and multi-channel distribution of income from electricity sales can achieve sustained income growth of villagers and village collective. With the support of national policies, the household distributed photovoltaic power station can generate stable income of as little as one thousand yuan to as much as ten thousand yuan every year, which can be continuous income for 20 years. Concentrated photovoltaic power stations can increase the income of villagers at their “doorsteps” through income sharing and public welfare jobs, which plays an important role in promoting the villagers’ poverty alleviation, consolidating the achievement of poverty alleviation, and helping common prosperity. The income of village-level photovoltaic power stations has also become an important source of “breaking zero” for the collective economy of poor villages. In addition, with the support of new technologies and new models, distributed photovoltaic development models such as “photovoltaic + agriculture” and “photovoltaic + tourism” provide a steady stream of strong driving force for rural revitalization, generate new forms of business to increase income, inject new vitality into common prosperity, and enable the people to truly enjoy the dividends of energy transformation and low-carbon development.

Installation difficulties maintenance management bottleneck

Distributed photovoltaic promotion is a long-term work involving many parties. Even on the basis of the successful experience of photovoltaic poverty alleviation, the current promotion effect still has a large room for improvement. It is urgent to summarize and find out the shortcomings in time to speed up the solution of development difficulties.

Policy promotion is weak, acceptance needs to be improved, and information cocoon effect is obvious. The acceptance and implementation of policies by the masses should be based on sufficient understanding and recognition. As an emerging industry in the ascendant, distributed photovoltaic (PV) policies are still not widely promoted in rural areas, and the effect of policies issued by village committees and publicity and science popularization by village committees is not ideal. During the visit, the research team found that the coverage rate reported by the village committees receiving the superior policy notice was generally low, and the villages that effectively implemented the rural photovoltaic development, issued household photovoltaic subsidies, and promoted the policy of “county photovoltaic” only accounted for 41%, 30% and 18% of the total samples respectively. In addition, 41% of the village committees did not participate in the process of purchasing, installing and using photovoltaic equipment. As one of the important sources for villagers to obtain policy information, the village committee’s absence in the photovoltaic promotion and installation process has intensified the information cocoon effect of villagers to a large extent. Among the survey samples, 60% of the residents lack a clear understanding of the significance of roof distributed photovoltaic power generation construction and are “not clear” about the complex grid-connection process, which to a large extent hinders the large-scale popularization and application of roof distributed photovoltaic power generation. Therefore, it is necessary to further promote the implementation of the policy and improve the villagers’ awareness and acceptance of the photovoltaic policy.

The cost of trial and error is high, the economic pressure is great, and the willingness to install tends to decline. Pv installation cost is also an important consideration for farmers. In a city in Northwest China, in order to promote distributed photovoltaic, the village committee simplified the installation process for villagers, and actively funded the unified construction of photovoltaic slope leveling supports for villagers. The villagers only needed to complete the installation of photovoltaic panels by themselves, but the results were not satisfactory. The photovoltaic panels are expensive to install and many villagers need to borrow money for them. Even though the village committee has promised to repay the loans in full within two years, few villagers are willing to try. In the end, only alloy brackets remain on the roofs of many farmers’ homes, resulting in a waste of resources and funds. The results of a national survey show that the total cost of photovoltaic equipment installation for more than two-thirds of rural households exceeds RMB 10,000 yuan, which is indeed a great economic burden for rural residents. In the survey, about 1/6 farmers have photovoltaic loans, nearly 40% of them have photovoltaic loans with a term of 10 years, and up to 60% of the surveyed farmers admitted that photovoltaic loans have brought them additional economic pressure to some extent. Under such circumstances, 65% of the surveyed villagers prefer to choose the roof rental model that does not require personal investment. According to this model, a series of costs such as materials, installation and maintenance are borne by the relevant photovoltaic enterprises, which brings huge financial pressure to the relevant enterprises. Therefore, reducing the photovoltaic installation cost, shortening the installation cost recovery time, and increasing the subsidy amount have become common demands, and are also important guarantees to promote the active entry of photovoltaic enterprises into the market.

The quality of equipment is uneven, and there are concerns about the return on capital. In addition to solar radiation resources, the power generation of photovoltaic equipment is highly related to the quality of equipment. Different quality of equipment will affect the energy conversion efficiency, and then affect the power generation. It is found that distributed photovoltaic equipment generally has problems such as poor quality, serious aging of photovoltaic panels, frequent failures of equipment components, and so on. The power generation benefit of photovoltaic projects declines year by year, and improving the benefit and service life of photovoltaic power generation is the key concern of installed groups. Some villagers say that annual electricity generation has dropped from nearly 10,000 KWH at the beginning to only about 6,000 KWH. Coupled with frequent equipment breakdowns and high maintenance costs, the income from power generation has barely made ends meet. One of their main concerns is whether they will be able to repay their loans every quarter. When asked about the maximum return time acceptable, only 15% of the surveyed farmers could accept the return time more than 5 years, while the actual return time is 6-8 years. The difference between villagers’ expectation and the actual situation has become a big problem that must be paid attention to.

Multi-party led management disorder, lack of regular maintenance. The process of distributed photovoltaic installation mainly involves the relationship between three subjects: government, enterprises and residents. The three have established cooperative relations in information, services, interests and other aspects, and different leading cooperative modes differ significantly. There are often multiple cooperative modes in the same village, which brings inconvenience to overall management. In addition, in the photovoltaic operation and maintenance work, the government and enterprises are generally absent. More than 50% of the installed villagers reported that the government or enterprises had never visited PV module equipment inspection in the previous year, and 32% of the surveyed users reported that the government or enterprises inspected PV module equipment only once or twice in the previous year. In a city in eastern China, a large number of “orphan power stations” were even left behind after their installation. Villagers are not capable of operating smart grids, and most of them do not know anything about the power generation, subsidy amount and power generation income. Due to the lack of maintenance, it is easy to form “photovoltaic scam” and other misunderstandings, which hinder the further promotion of installation. It has become the consistent demand of installed farmers to strengthen enterprises’ late maintenance management of photovoltaic equipment and improve photovoltaic use experience.

We look forward to strengthening coordination based on demand

On the road to accelerating the construction of an agricultural power, distributed photovoltaic industry can be promoted from the following aspects:

We will strengthen the regulation and management of photovoltaic enterprises. We should give full play to the role of local governments in intervening and coordinating between enterprises and villagers, and form a well-coordinated tripartite relationship. Strictly implement the main responsibility of photovoltaic construction enterprises and power grid companies for safety production, improve the “trinity” operation and maintenance mechanism of classified departments supervision, professional operation and maintenance, and daily management of three types of rooftop photovoltaic, village power station and photovoltaic greenhouse projects, urge enterprises to timely fulfill their maintenance and warranty responsibilities, and promote the standardization of photovoltaic operation and maintenance management. We will step up efforts to examine the qualifications of enterprises that advertise their presence in villages, and prevent undesirable enterprises from disrupting the market for the purpose of “one-time sales”. Establish and improve the photovoltaic market access mechanism, improve the “trust-breaking blacklist” system, strictly restrict trust-breaking enterprises from entering the market, and optimize the market environment.

Based on the characteristics of rural population age structure, strengthen the popularization of policies. We will improve the communication mechanism between the government and residents, actively expand the feedback channels for residents’ use of rooftop photovoltaic, give full play to the guiding role of the media, extensively carry out the popularization of rooftop photovoltaic science, and gradually improve the basic knowledge of residents’ rooftop photovoltaic maintenance. We will popularize the concept of green development, promote the application of solar energy and other renewable energy sources in rural life, and help realize the “double carbon” goal from the perspective of villagers’ daily lifestyle.

We will formulate photovoltaic installation and promotion strategies in light of local conditions and expand rural revitalization roads. We will give full play to the role of the photovoltaic poverty alleviation mechanism, guide local governments to adapt to local conditions and take into account existing infrastructure and local development advantages, actively cultivate new models and business forms such as “photovoltaic + agriculture” and “photovoltaic + ecology”, stimulate the development vitality of the photovoltaic industry, and cultivate a number of “photovoltaic +” integrated enterprises that are “specialized and innovative”. On the basis of enabling rural revitalization, we will provide jobs for villagers and consolidate the achievements of photovoltaic poverty alleviation.

We will effectively coordinate and distribute pilot policies for photovoltaic installations, and reasonably adjust the pace of promotion. On the basis of photovoltaic poverty alleviation achievements, in combination with regional development plans and natural resource endowments, we plan the development layout and construction timing of rooftop distributed photovoltaic power grids in all regions of the country, formulate practical photovoltaic installation and promotion strategies, guide the orderly progress of photovoltaic construction, and reasonably deploy supporting factors such as land, capital and grid-connected facilities. It will provide support for accelerating the implementation of photovoltaic supporting projects and their replacement projects.

photovoltaic power industry base

Photo taken on Feb. 15 shows the Tiangang Lake photovoltaic power industry base in Sihong county, East China’s Jiangsu province.

photovoltaic equipment production

Workers check the quality of photovoltaic panels at a photovoltaic equipment production company in Yutian county, North China’s Hebeiprovince, March 18, 2019.

integrated photovoltaic power station

Ningxia Baofeng Nongguang integrated photovoltaic power station.

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