BEIJING (Reuters) - China installed 20 gigawatts (GW) of solar power capacity in the first half of 2016, three times as much as during the same period a year ago, state news agency Xinhua reported late on Thursday citing the country's largest solar industry lobby.
The surge in capacity extended China's lead over Germany as the top solar generator, said Wang Bohua, General Secretary of the China Photovoltaic Industry Association (CPIA), according to Xinhua.
Power developers were also pushed to complete installations ahead of a proposed reduction in the price paid for solar power by grid operators, said Wang.
China' government decreed in late 2015 that only projects that were operational by June 30, 2016, would be eligible for a 'feed-in tariff' of roughly 1.0 yuan (15 U.S. cents) per kilowatt hour (kwh), while projects completed after that date would be eligible for a lower tariff rate.
Production of solar photovoltaic (PV) modules also increased to 27 GW, up by 37.8 percent in the first half of the year, the CPIA said in a report on its website, adding that the profit margins of the major manufacturers improved to an average of 5 percent from 4.85 percent last year.
China surpassed Germany as the largest solar power generator worldwide last year, with installed PV capacity totaling 43 GW as of the end of 2015.
The government has set a national target for new commercial solar power capacity of 18.1 GW for this year, which is below initial market expectations and is a sign that the government is trying to slow capacity expansion in the power generation sector.
Including experimental roof-top projects and charitable installations in impoverished areas, total new solar capacity is expected to be 30 GW by year-end, CPIA said.
The CPIA data showed that the western provinces have the greatest surplus capacity, with the provinces of Xinjiang and Gansu wasting 52 percent and 39 percent of their respective generated solar power in the first quarter.
China's solar power output increased 31.3 percent from a year ago in June to 3,300 gigawatt hours, according to the National Statistics Bureau. That equated to 0.7 percent of total power generation, and was the first time the statistics bureau carried solar output data.
(Reporting By Kathy Chen; Editing by Christian Schmollinger)