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China will ramp up its deployment of solar power and cut its power capacity target for nuclear power by 2020 in the wake of the nuclear crisis in Japan, according to the country’s National Development and Reform Commission.

The country’s previous goal was to create nuclear plants capable of producing 80 gigawatts of electricity by 2020 and enough solar power and wind power farms to generate 20 gigawatts of electricity. The new plan involves reducing the power target for nuclear power and increasing the amount of power produced by renewable energy sources like solar and wind power — though there wasn’t a specific wattage target. To put things in perspective, Chinese households consumed about 4.2 million gigawatt-hours in 2010.

Solar power farms use flat photovoltaic panels that absorb sunlight and convert it to electricity. Typical wafer-style solar panels can capture around 30 percent of the sunlight shining on them and convert it into electricity. Flexible, thin-film photovoltaic cells that can be placed on most surfaces can only capture 15 – 20 percent of the sunlight shining on them. One photovoltaic cell typically generates around a watt of power. Solar panels that are seen throughout the world are large collections of photovoltaic cells, usually around 6 inches across each.

The new plans came after a 9.0-magnitude quake struck off the northeast coast of Japan and spawned a massive tsunami that exceeded the damage threshold of the Japan’s nuclear power plants. The quake cut off power to the plants, and the tsunami that followed the earthquake destroyed diesel-powered generators that were providing backup power to the plant — meaning there was no clean water pumping into the reactor to keep the fuel rods cool. That set off a chain of events that led to reports of leaking radiation.

The crisis in Japan set off a large amount of increased interest in solar power stocks, but it was short-lived as those companies quickly came back to reality. But the nuclear disaster has opened up an opportunity for solar power companies to garner some interest from venture capitalists and other investors over the next several months as the disaster’s backlash has produced a pretty large public response.

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