Im­pact Se­ries: 04-23

The Global Diffusion of Clean Technology
China and the Solar Energy Boom


Adopting clean energy technology is crucial for reducing emissions and achieving global climate goals. In this Kühne Impact Series, we shed light on the importance of global diffusion of clean technology through international trade. In particular, we highlight China’s expansion in the solar energy sector and its role in bringing down the cost of solar energy worldwide. Our main result is that international trade and globally integrated value chains have dramatically reduced the global average cost of renewable technologies. Keeping markets open to trade is essential for enabling a low-carbon energy transition as it ensures that all countries benefit from the lower cost of clean energy technologies. Moreover, we highlight three potential challenges that represent considerable vulnerabilities for the global diffusion of clean technology: (i) the current geographical concentration in global supply chains, (ii) the US-China and EU-China “Solar Trade War,” and (iii) the global slowdown in highquality solar energy inventions.

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So­lar En­er­gy is Boom­ing Glob­al­ly ...
Cli­mate change is al­ready neg­a­tive­ly af­fect­ing the en­vi­ron­ment with se­vere con­se­quences for many so­ci­eties around the world.1 To mit­i­gate cli­mate change, green­house gas emis­sions must be re­duced. With around 76% of glob­al green­house gas emis­sions com­ing from en­er­gy pro­duc­tion and use, the de­car­boniza­tion of en­er­gy is the most im­por­tant el­e­ment of the green tran­si­tion.2 The good news is that over the past two decades, the pro­por­tion of glob­al en­er­gy gen­er­at­ed from re­new­able tech­nolo­gies has ex­pe­ri­enced a re­mark­able and swift ex­pan­sion. In 2022, the re­new­able share of the to­tal elec­tric­i­ty gen­er­a­tion ca­pac­i­ty rose to 40%. In fact the vast ma­jor­i­ty of new ca­pac­i­ty built is in re­new­ables: the share of re­new­ables in new elec­tric­i­ty ca­pac­i­ty reached 80% in 2022 com­pared to 20% in 2002.3

Much of the in­creased ca­pac­i­ty of re­new­able tech­nolo­gies comes from so­lar pho­to­volta­ic (PV) tech­nolo­gies.3 Fig­ure 1 il­lus­trates this de­vel­op­ment by show­ing the share of cu­mu­la­tive pow­er ca­pac­i­ty by tech­nol­o­gy over time. The fig­ure in­cludes a fore­cast made by the In­ter­na­tion­al En­er­gy Agency for the pe­ri­od af­ter 2022. In 2022, so­lar PV con­sti­tut­ed about 13% of elec­tric­i­ty gen­er­a­tion ca­pac­i­ty, and the In­ter­na­tion­al En­er­gy Agency an­tic­i­pates so­lar PV’s in­stalled pow­er ca­pac­i­ty to al­most triple by 2027. This de­vel­op­ment would im­ply that so­lar PV ca­pac­i­ty ex­ceeds hy­dropow­er, nat­ur­al gas, and coal, be­com­ing the largest in­stalled elec­tric­i­ty ca­pac­i­ty world­wide

Source: The In­ter­na­tion­al En­er­gy Agency (IEA):­tis­tics/charts/share­of-cu­mu­la­tive-pow­er-ca­pac­i­ty-bytech­nol­o­gy-2010-2027, Li­cence: CC BY 4.0.

Un­der­pin­ning this ca­pac­i­ty ex­pan­sion is a dra­mat­ic fall in the cost of so­lar PV. Fig­ure 2a shows the to­tal in­stalled cost of so­lar PV in the years 2020 to 2021 for a set of coun­tries, as well as the glob­al av­er­age. The fig­ure il­lus­trates a sharp re­duc­tion in the cost of so­lar PV over time. In par­tic­u­lar, the glob­al av­er­age cost of so­lar de­clined by 88% be­tween 2010 and 2021, a re­mark­able re­duc­tion that match­es or even sur­pass­es any oth­er in­vest­ment cost de­crease, in­clud­ing the his­tor­i­cal cost re­duc­tion of com­put­ers and pe­riph­er­al equip­ment (Arko­lakis and Walsh, 2023).

The de­creas­ing cost of so­lar PV has po­si­tioned re­new­able en­er­gy tech­nol­o­gy as one of the cheap­est forms of en­er­gy in many parts of the world. As shown in Fig­ure 2b, the glob­al weight­ed av­er­age lev­elized cost of elec­tric­i­ty (LCOE) of new util­i­ty-scale so­lar PV is now be­low the low­er end of the price range of fos­sil fuel-fired pow­er gen­er­a­tion op­tions.5

The decreasing cost of solar PV has positioned renewable energy technology as one of the cheapest forms of energy in many parts of the world.

In this Kühne Im­pact Se­ries, we demon­strate how the glob­al dif­fu­sion of clean tech­nol­o­gy through in­ter­na­tion­al trade has played an im­por­tant role in the dra­mat­ic cost re­duc­tion in so­lar glob­al­ly. Specif­i­cal­ly, we dis­cuss Chi­na’s sub­stan­tial ex­pan­sion in so­lar PV pro­duc­tion, mak­ing Chi­na the lead­ing glob­al pro­duc­er since 2007, and its role in bring­ing down the cost of so­lar en­er­gy world­wide. Through com­par­isons to a pre­dict­ed coun­ter­fac­tu­al cost de­vel­op­ment of so­lar PV in the ab­sence of Chi­na’s ex­pan­sion or ab­sent open in­ter­na­tion­al mar­kets, we show that in­ter­na­tion­al trade is es­sen­tial in the glob­al dif­fu­sion of clean en­er­gy tech­nol­o­gy as it en­sures that all coun­tries ben­e­fit from the low­er cost of clean en­er­gy tech­nolo­gies. Thus, in ad­di­tion to the green sourc­ing po­ten­tial of in­ter­na­tion­al trade dis­cussed in the pre­vi­ous Kühne Im­pact Se­ries, we high­light that the glob­al dif­fu­sion of clean tech­nol­o­gy is an­oth­er im­por­tant chan­nel through which in­ter­na­tion­al trade mat­ters in the fight against cli­mate change.

We con­clude by dis­cussing po­ten­tial chal­lenges for the fur­ther glob­al dif­fu­sion of clean tech­nol­o­gy. In par­tic­u­lar, we dis­cuss the vul­ner­a­bil­i­ty of the cur­rent ge­o­graph­i­cal con­cen­tra­tion in glob­al sup­ply chains, the US-Chi­na and EU-Chi­na “So­lar Trade War,” and the slow­down in high-qual­i­ty so­lar en­er­gy in­ven­tions.

... be­cause In­ter­na­tion­al Trade Lever­aged a Chi­nese So­lar Boom
To il­lus­trate the dri­vers be­hind the rise in so­lar PV and the role of in­ter­na­tion­al trade in clean tech­no­log­i­cal dif­fu­sion, Fig­ure 3 shows the an­nu­al pro­duc­tion of so­lar PV in the lead­ing pro­duc­ing coun­tries. The fig­ure shows that an ex­pan­sion in Chi­na’s pro­duc­tion large­ly dri­ves the over­all in­crease in pro­duc­tion: the glob­al so­lar boom is large­ly a Chi­nese so­lar boom. Start­ing from al­most zero in 2000, Chi­na’s glob­al share of so­lar PV pro­duc­tion has risen sharply, mak­ing Chi­na the lead­ing pro­duc­er glob­al­ly since 2007. To­day, Chi­na’s share in so­lar PV pro­duc­tion ex­ceeds 80%, which is more than dou­ble its share of glob­al de­mand, mak­ing Chi­na the lead­ing ex­porter of so­lar PV glob­al­ly.6

The ex­pan­sion of the so­lar in­dus­try in Chi­na is a re­sult of the cost-com­pet­i­tive­ness of Chi­nese firms, which is it­self due to sev­er­al fac­tors. First, Chi­nese firms ben­e­fit­ed from low la­bor costs com­pared to pre­vi­ous in­cum­bents. Sec­ond, the Chi­nese gov­ern­ment en­act­ed a range of in­dus­tri­al poli­cies, in­clud­ing sub­si­dies, to sup­port a sec­tor that it viewed as strate­gic (see, e.g., Ba­nares-Sanchez et al., 2023). Third, a de­mand push al­lowed Chi­nese firms to ben­e­fit from economies of scale and learn­ing by do­ing.

The global diffusion of clean technology is another important channel through which international trade matters in the fight against climate change.

This de­mand push orig­i­nat­ed from coun­tries such as the US, Ger­many, and oth­er mem­ber states of the Eu­ro­pean Union with com­mit­ments to reach­ing cli­mate neu­tral­i­ty by 2050 (Nemet, 2019). That is, in­ter­na­tion­al trade is di­rect­ly re­spon­si­ble for the Chi­nese so­lar boom.

China has been instrumental in bringing down the cost worldwide for solar PV, enabling faster clean technology adoption.

Chi­na has been in­stru­men­tal in bring­ing down the cost world­wide for so­lar PV, en­abling faster clean tech­nol­o­gy adop­tion. We il­lus­trate this in Fig­ure 4. The dot­ted lines in the Fig­ure show the year­ly de­vel­op­ment of the cost of so­lar PV pro­duced in Chi­na and the Rest of the World, re­spec­tive­ly, on a log scale.7 In ad­di­tion, the fig­ure il­lus­trates fit­ted lines, i.e., the best non-lin­ear fit of the so­lar PV cost data points. The fit­ted lines rep­re­sent the gen­er­al trends in the cost of so­lar in Chi­na and the Rest of the World. They are es­ti­mat­ed sep­a­rate­ly for the years be­fore and af­ter 2007, to demon­strate the changed tra­jec­to­ry when Chi­na starts dom­i­nat­ing the mar­ket. Fi­nal­ly, the dashed line pro­longs the pre-2007 trend for the Rest of the World into the post-2007 time pe­ri­od.

Source: Earth Pol­i­cy In­sti­tute

Three facts emerge. First, the fig­ure re­pro­duces the sharp de­cline in the cost of so­lar PV since the year 1990. Sec­ond, it shows that from 2007 on­ward, the cost of Chi­nese so­lar pan­els has been low­er than that in the Rest of the World and has de­clined faster (the blue line is be­low the yel­low and steep­er). Third, and per­haps most im­por­tant­ly, there is a clear trend-break in 2007, even for the Rest of the World: costs have de­clined sub­stan­tial­ly faster than on the pre-2007 trend (the yel­low line is steep­er than the dashed line).

How large was Chi­na’s role in re­duc­ing so­lar PV costs? And sub­se­quent­ly how cost­ly would it be to shut down trade with Chi­na in so­lar PV? Fig­ure 4 can pro­vide some guid­ing an­swers. The first role of in­ter­na­tion­al trade is that it al­lows all coun­tries to ac­cess the cheap­er Chi­nese so­lar pan­els. The gap be­tween the blue and the yel­low line in 2021 rep­re­sent 18% of the price de­cline since 2007. In turn, shut­ting down trade with Chi­na to­day would re­move the op­por­tu­ni­ty for the Rest of the World to ac­cess so­lar PV at a 22% low­er cost.

These num­bers are, how­ev­er, most sure­ly low­er bounds. In­ter­na­tion­al trade and glob­al­ly in­te­grat­ed so­lar PV val­ue chains al­low pro­duc­ers in the Rest of the World to rely heav­i­ly on Chi­na both for sourc­ing in­puts and for man­u­fac­tur­ing (i.e., off-shoring of pro­duc­tion). In­deed, trade pat­terns re­veal that so­lar PV sup­ply chains have be­come in­creas­ing­ly glob­al­ized over the past two decades. Trade in the HS sub­head­ing where se­lect­ed so­lar PV com­po­nents are clas­si­fied in­creased sig­nif­i­cant­ly from around US$ 111 bil­lion in 2005 to slight­ly more than US$ 300 bil­lion in 2019. This role for in­ter­na­tion­al trade is re­flect­ed in the trend break in the so­lar PV costs for the Rest of the World post-2007.

We can then use the pre­dic­tion for the Rest of the World (the dashed yel­low line in the fig­ure) as a rough coun­ter­fac­tu­al for the cost de­vel­op­ment of so­lar PV in the ab­sence of any form of in­ter­na­tion­al trade in the so­lar sec­tor with Chi­na. Specif­i­cal­ly, com­pared to this coun­ter­fac­tu­al, trade with Chi­na has con­tributed to re­duc­ing the cost of so­lar PV by around 63% since 2007 and ful­ly shut­ting down trade with Chi­na to­day could raise prices by up to 133% (cor­re­spond­ing to the gap be­tween the blue and the dashed line). Since the de­mand fac­tors dis­cussed above may also have played a role in the cost de­vel­op­ment and since some of the cost re­duc­tions achieved in Chi­nese plants have now spilled over to the Rest of the World, these num­bers are like­ly up­per bounds.

Still, com­bin­ing our up­per- and low­er-bound es­ti­mates, Fig­ure 4 makes clear that keep­ing mar­kets open to trade is im­por­tant to en­sure that all coun­tries can ben­e­fit from low­er cost of so­lar PV. Tak­en to­geth­er, our find­ings high­light that the glob­al dif­fu­sion of clean tech­nol­o­gy is an im­por­tant chan­nel through which in­ter­na­tion­al trade mat­ters in the fight against cli­mate change.

The Fu­ture of In­ter­na­tion­al Trade and So­lar Pan­els

While push­ing down the cost of so­lar en­er­gy tech­nol­o­gy adop­tion, Chi­na’s ex­pan­sion in so­lar PV pro­duc­tion and its dom­i­nance in the sup­ply chain have led to sev­er­al con­cerns, with pos­si­bly im­por­tant con­se­quences for the fur­ther glob­al dif­fu­sion of clean en­er­gy.

One such con­cern is the con­sid­er­able vul­ner­a­bil­i­ty as­so­ci­at­ed with the lev­el of ge­o­graph­ic con­cen­tra­tion of so­lar PV pro­duc­tion. Chi­na’s share in all man­u­fac­tur­ing stages ex­ceeds 80%, and is pre­dict­ed to con­tin­ue in­creas­ing to reach 95% by 2025 (IEA, 2022). This lev­el of con­cen­tra­tion in any glob­al sup­ply chain rep­re­sents a con­sid­er­able vul­ner­a­bil­i­ty as it opens up for po­ten­tial dis­rup­tion from both do­mes­tic pol­i­cy changes and geopo­lit­i­cal events. Re­cent dis­rup­tions, in­clud­ing the Covid-19 cri­sis and the war in Ukraine, have fur­ther raised at­ten­tion to such risks, em­pha­siz­ing the im­por­tance of di­ver­si­fy­ing so­lar PV sup­ply chains to im­prove long-term re­silience against ex­oge­nous shocks.

The cost com­pet­i­tive­ness of ex­ist­ing so­lar PV man­u­fac­tur­ing is a key chal­lenge to di­ver­si­fy­ing sup­ply chains. Chi­na is cur­rent­ly the most cost-com­pet­i­tive lo­ca­tion to man­u­fac­ture all com­po­nents of the so­lar PV sup­ply chain, mak­ing di­ver­si­fi­ca­tion dif­fi­cult with­out ded­i­cat­ed in­dus­tri­al poli­cies.

A sec­ond con­cern re­lates to the ex­tent to which Chi­na’s cost com­pet­i­tive­ness is due to nu­mer­ous hu­man right vi­o­la­tions, push­ing down the cost of la­bor. The vast ma­jor­i­ty of so­lar pan­els have sig­nif­i­cant ex­po­sure to the Xin­ji­aan re­gion in Chi­na, where the gov­ern­ment of Chi­na has im­posed a re­gion-wide, eth­ni­cal­ly tar­get­ed pro­gram of state-im­posed forced la­bor upon the Uyghur com­mu­ni­ty and oth­er mi­nori­tized cit­i­zens of the Xin­jiang Uyghur Au­tonomous Re­gion (UN OHCHR, 2022; Craw­ford and Mur­phy, 2023).

En­sur­ing that the tran­si­tion to re­new­able en­er­gy is not con­tribut­ing to hu­man rights vi­o­la­tions is es­sen­tial and has been in­creas­ing­ly high­light­ed by the so­lar in­dus­try, gov­ern­ments, and con­sumers. Since 2021, there has been a sig­nif­i­cant change in so­lar in­dus­try sourc­ing to­ward oth­er parts of Chi­na but also abroad. This change is part­ly a re­sult of reg­u­la­tions and a ban on im­ports of prod­ucts from this area. How­ev­er, the in­creas­ing lack of trans­paren­cy in so­lar sup­ply chains makes it dif­fi­cult for con­sumers, pro­cur­ers, in­vestors, and gov­ern­ments to iden­ti­fy a so­lar mod­ule not made with Uyghur forced la­bor. This threat­ens the pub­lic trust in the so­lar in­dus­try and, there­fore, the fur­ther adop­tion of so­lar en­er­gy.

Part­ly as a re­sult of these con­cerns, but main­ly due to ar­gu­ments that Chi­nese so­lar PV was un­fair­ly sub­si­dized and harmed the do­mes­tic in­dus­try in the EU and the US, ten­sions in so­lar trade be­tween US-Chi­na and EU-Chi­na es­ca­lat­ed into a “So­lar Trade War” in 2011. Since then, the num­ber of an­tidump­ing, coun­ter­vail­ing, and im­port du­ties levied against parts of the so­lar PV sup­ply chain has reached 16 du­ties and im­port tax­es, with eight ad­di­tion­al poli­cies un­der con­sid­er­a­tion.

While the trade dis­pute with the EU is cur­rent­ly large­ly re­solved, ini­tia­tives from the US to fur­ther re­strict im­ports from Chi­na are on­go­ing, leav­ing sup­ply chains vul­ner­a­ble to fur­ther trade pol­i­cy risks. The cur­rent ten­sion and the po­ten­tial fur­ther es­ca­la­tions of trade dis­putes rep­re­sent con­sid­er­able vul­ner­a­bil­i­ties for the glob­al dif­fu­sion of clean tech­nol­o­gy, as in­ter­na­tion­al trade is crit­i­cal to pro­vide the di­verse ma­te­ri­als need­ed to make so­lar pan­els and de­liv­er them to fi­nal mar­kets at a com­pet­i­tive cost.

In­no­va­tion in So­lar is Slow­ing Down

Sus­tained tech­no­log­i­cal ad­vance­ment in clean tech­nolo­gies is es­sen­tial for the tran­si­tion to clean en­er­gy. It is there­fore im­por­tant to study whether Chi­na’s so­lar boom also had im­pli­ca­tions for so­lar en­er­gy in­ven­tions. In the­o­ry, in­creased in­ter­na­tion­al com­pe­ti­tion from Chi­na could in­duce tech­ni­cal up­grad­ing and in­crease pro­duc­tiv­i­ty in the Rest of the World, pos­i­tive­ly af­fect­ing in­no­va­tion rates (Bloom et al., 2016). On the oth­er hand, in­creased com­pe­ti­tion di­min­ish­es prof­it mar­gins, pos­si­bly re­duc­ing re­search and de­vel­op­ment ac­tiv­i­ties and thus re­duc­ing in­no­va­tion (Aghion et al., 2005; Au­tor et al., 2020).

As shown in Fig­ure 5a, the num­ber of patents in Chi­na has sub­stan­tial­ly in­creased since 2005. How­ev­er, the num­ber of patents glob­al­ly start­ed to de­cline af­ter 2010 as a re­sult of a sharp de­crease in the num­ber of patents in the Rest of the World.

The glob­al de­cline in so­lar en­er­gy in­ven­tions be­comes even more pro­nounced when fo­cus­ing on high-qual­i­ty in­ven­tions. Fig­ure 5b weighs the num­ber of patents by the num­ber of ci­ta­tions to ac­count for the im­por­tance of a patent, show­ing a steep­er de­cline in over­all in­ven­tions. More­over, Fig­ure 5c re­stricts at­ten­tion to patent fam­i­lies with patent ap­pli­ca­tions in at least two coun­tries (i.e., biadic patents), which is a de­f­i­n­i­tion com­mon­ly viewed as cap­tur­ing in­no­va­tions of suf­fi­cient­ly high qual­i­ty. The num­ber of biadic patents peaked glob­al­ly in 2010, af­ter which it dropped be­low the lev­el reached at the be­gin­ning of Chi­na’s surge. No­tably, Chi­na’s in­crease in biadic patents is very lim­it­ed. Thus, al­though Chi­na is also in­creas­ing­ly dom­i­nat­ing in so­lar en­er­gy in­no­va­tion, over­all so­lar in­ven­tions, par­tic­u­lar­ly high-qual­i­ty in­ven­tions, have been re­duced.

While oth­er fac­tors (such as low gas prices and cuts in re­new­ables sub­si­dies in some EU coun­tries) may also be at play be­hind the drop in in­no­va­tions in the Rest of the World, these fig­ures raise the con­cern that Chi­na’s dom­i­nance may hin­der so­lar en­er­gy in­no­va­tion. Ben­e­fit­ing from low­er costs, Chi­nese pro­duc­ers dis­placed Amer­i­can, Ger­man and Japan­ese firms that pro­duced more ex­pen­sive so­lar pan­els but were also more in­no­v­a­tive.8 While Chi­na’s role in the cost re­duc­tion of so­lar PV has en­abled in­creased ca­pac­i­ty and adop­tion, sus­tained in­no­va­tion is im­por­tant to en­sure fur­ther dif­fu­sion of clean en­er­gy tech­nol­o­gy. Ac­cord­ing to the In­ter­na­tion­al En­er­gy Agency’s roadmap to net zero emis­sion by 2050, an­nu­al so­lar PV ca­pac­i­ty ad­di­tions need to more than quadru­ple to 630 gi­gawatts (GW) by 2030, and in­no­va­tions play an im­por­tant role in mak­ing this pos­si­ble.9

The current tension and the potential further escalations of trade disputes represent considerable vulnerabilities for the global diffusion of clean technology.


The dif­fu­sion of clean­er en­er­gy tech­nol­o­gy is es­sen­tial in the wider tran­si­tion tra­jec­to­ries away from un­sus­tain­able pro­duc­tion pat­terns. In this Kühne Im­pact Se­ries, we dis­cussed how the glob­al dif­fu­sion of clean tech­nol­o­gy, such as so­lar pan­els, through in­ter­na­tion­al trade is an ad­di­tion­al im­por­tant chan­nel through which in­ter­na­tion­al trade plays an im­por­tant role in the fight against cli­mate change.

Specif­i­cal­ly, we demon­strat­ed the role of Chi­na and in­ter­na­tion­al trade in the dra­mat­ic ca­pac­i­ty ex­pan­sion of so­lar PV. We made the case that Chi­na has con­tributed to re­duc­ing the cost of so­lar PV by up to 63% since 2007. Our pre­dic­tions sug­gest­ed that shut­ting down trade with Chi­na to­day could raise prices by as much as 133%, stress­ing the im­por­tance of keep­ing mar­kets open to trade to en­sure that all coun­tries can ben­e­fit from a low­er cost of so­lar PV. More­over, we high­light­ed that threats to well-func­tion­ing glob­al sup­ply chains, in­clud­ing the vul­ner­a­bil­i­ty of the cur­rent ge­o­graph­i­cal con­cen­tra­tion in glob­al sup­ply chains and po­ten­tial es­ca­la­tions of the “So­lar Trade War,” as well as the slow­down in high-qual­i­ty so­lar en­er­gy in­ven­tions, con­sti­tute po­ten­tial chal­lenges for the fur­ther glob­al dif­fu­sion of clean tech­nol­o­gy.

  1. See, for in­stance, the World Bank’s So­cial Di­men­sions of Cli­mate Change:­­ic/so­cial-di­men­sions-of-cli­mate-change
  2. En­er­gy pro­duc­tion and use ac­count­ed for 76% of glob­al GHG emis­sions in 2019 (Cli­mate Watch, World Re­source In­sti­tute (2020).
  3. IRE­NA, Re­new­able Ca­pac­i­ty Sta­tis­tics 2022. Note that since so­lar and wind are in­ter­mit­tent sources, the re­new­able elec­tric­i­ty gen­er­a­tion share is low­er than its ca­pac­i­ty share.
  4. A pho­to­volta­ic (PV) cell, com­mon­ly called a so­lar cell, is a non-me­chan­i­cal de­vice that con­verts sun­light (or ar­ti­fi­cial light) di­rect­ly into elec­tric­i­ty.
  5. The lev­elized cost of elec­tric­i­ty (LCOE) mea­sures the av­er­age net present cost of elec­tric­i­ty gen­er­a­tion for a gen­er­a­tor over its life­time. This num­ber does not fac­tor in the cost of bat­ter­ies to ad­dress the in­ter­mit­ten­cy of so­lar PV.
  6. The Chi­nese-man­u­fac­tured share of glob­al so­lar PV ship­ments reached 71% in 2022 (com­pared to 1% in 2004). Con­verse­ly, US so­lar PV ship­ments, while in­creas­ing in ab­solute num­bers, de­clined as a per­cent­age of glob­al ship­ments from around 13% to 1.2% in 2022.
  7. Coun­try-lev­el so­lar PV cost data is not avail­able pri­or to 2002 and we use glob­al costs for the “Rest of the World” be­cause Chi­na was not a sig­nif­i­cant pro­duc­er then
  8. For in­stance, Car­val­ho et al. (2017) show that the biggest so­lar cell and mod­ule man­u­fac­tur­ers all record­ed loss­es in 2011 and 2012. Q-cells, a ma­jor Ger­man cell man­u­fac­tur­er, which was a leader in the mar­ket for most of the 2000s, went bank­rupt in 2012.
  9. 9IEA (2021), Net Zero by 2050, IEA, Paris­ports/net-zero-by-2050, Li­cense: CC BY 4.0
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  • Ba­nares-Sanchez, I., R. Burgess, D. Las­z­lo, P. Simp­son, J. Van Reenen, and Y. Wang (2023). Ray of Hope? Chi­na and the Rise of So­lar En­er­gy
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  • Car­val­ho, M., A. Deche­zleprêtre, and M. Glachant (2017). Un­der­stand­ing the Dy­nam­ics of Glob­al Val­ue Chains for So­lar Pho­to­volta­ic Tech­nolo­gies. WIPO Eco­nom­ic Re­search Work­ing Pa­per 40.
  • Craw­ford, A., and T. L. Mur­phy (2023). Over-Ex­posed: Uyghur Re­gion Ex­po­sure As­sess­ment for So­lar In­dus­try Sourc­ing. Sheffield, UK: Sheffield Hal­lam.
  • IEA (2022). So­lar PV Glob­al Sup­ply Chains.­ports/so­lar-pv-glob­al-sup­ply-chains
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  • Nemet, G. F. (2019). How So­lar En­er­gy Be­came Cheap: A Mod­el for Low-Car­bon In­no­va­tion. Lon­don: Rout­ledge.
  • UN OHCHR (2022). OHCHR As­sess­ment of Hu­man Rights Con­cerns in the Xin­jiang Uyghur Au­tonomous Re­gion, Peo­ple’s Re­pub­lic of Chi­na.
  • We thank Ca­r­ole Marul­laz for pro­vid­ing data and il­lus­tra­tions on so­lar en­er­gy in­ven­tions.

About the Series

The Kühne Cen­ter aims to es­tab­lish it­self as a thought leader on is­sues sur­round­ing eco­nom­ic glob­al­iza­tion – by con­duct­ing rel­e­vant re­search and mak­ing its in­sights avail­able to a broad au­di­ence. The Kühne Cen­ter Im­pact Se­ries high­lights re­search-based in­sights that help to eval­u­ate the cur­rent world trad­ing sys­tem and to iden­ti­fy what works and what needs to be im­proved to achieve a tru­ly sus­tain­able glob­al­iza­tion.


Claudia Gentile

Doctoral Student at the Department of Economics at the University of Zurich


David Hémous

UBS Foundation Associate Professor of Economics of Innovation and Entrepreneurship at the University of Zurich


Roza Khoban

Senior Research Fellow at the Kühne Center for Sustainable Trade and Logistics at the University of Zurich


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