In 2013 the world's second largest economy installed more solar panels than any other country ever has within a single year period.

Figures released by Bloomberg New Energy Finance indicate that China installed 12 gigawatts of solar panels in 2013, which is the equivalent to the total number of panels throughout the entire United States.

While another estimate by environmental lobby group Greenpeace is pegged significantly lower, at between 9.5 and 10.7 gigawatts, its figures nonetheless also have China putting up a record-breaking number of solar panels last year.

China is now home to the world’s largest number of solar panels, with ambitions to maintain the current pace of installation to reach 35 gigawatts of solar energy by 2015.

A key reason behind the surge in solar panel installations last year has been strong support for the industry from Beijing, including measures such as power tariffs and subsidies, as well as the construction of mega-plants in more spacious, less densely populated parts of the country such as Xinjiang province.

China has pushed hard for the adoption of clean or renewable energy sources, chiefly due to the egregious pollution problems afflicting the country as a result of its breakneck pace of industrialization.

The country recently emerged as the world’s biggest investor in renewable energy following a decade of steady growth for the sector. In addition to solar, China currently leads the world with respect to total installed renewable energy capacity – both including and excluding hydro.

The country has installed in excess of 10 gigawatts of wind power for four straight years, while in 2012 accounted for around half the world’s installations of hydropower.

In spite of these laudable efforts, however, the gargantuan appetites of China’s growing economy have meant that the rate of growth for conventional sources of energy continue to outpace that of renewables.

According to Armond Cohen of the Breakthrough Institute, coal was still far and away the biggest growth area in China’s energy sector last year, with new fossil energy output exceeding new wind energy around six fold, and new solar by 27 times, despite the latter’s record breaking increase.