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Trailing—or Governing—the Market? Two Decades of Industrial Policy for China’s Solar Sector

January 04, 2023
Jonas Nahm

Working Paper
Trailing the Market or Governing It? Two Decades of Industrial Policy for China's Solar Sector

In this working paper, Jonas Nahm, Assistant Professor of Energy, Resources, and Environment at the Johns Hopkins School of Advanced International Studies, analyzes China’s solar industry.


There is probably no other advanced industrial sector in which China plays a greater role in global supply chains than in the solar industry. From the production of basic material inputs to the assembly of solar modules, Chinese firms dominate virtually every segment of global solar photovoltaic (PV) supply chains. This paper reviews the role of industrial policy in shaping China’s current position in current solar supply chains. The author argues that China’s solar industry started as an export-oriented sector driven primarily by subnational government investments in manufacturing capacity. While the Chinese central government enabled the role of subnational actors to some degree, the center responded to subnational government actions more than it guided them. Although the central government has taken a more active role in shaping domestic markets since its first intervention in the solar industry in 2009, it has continued to primarily address unintended consequences caused by misaligned incentives for subnational actors.

This working paper is part of an IGCC series on China’s science, technology, innovation, and industrial policies. This work was made possible through support from the U.S. Department of State’s Bureau of Intelligence and Research.

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