* Target set 20 pct higher than original aim
* Solar company shares rise sharply with higher installation goal (Recasts with details, comments and market reaction)
BEIJING/HONG KONG, March 18 (Reuters) - China has set a higher-than-expected target for solar power installations in 2015 as it seeks to boost renewable energy use, sparking a sharp rise in the shares of domestic solar companies.
China aims to install 17.8 gigawatts (GW) of solar power capacity this year, China’s National Energy Administration (NEA) said in a document posted on its website.
This is up nearly 20 percent from the original goal of 15 GW of installations and nearly 70 percent from the 10.52 GW of solar generation capacity China installed last year.
Beijing set the target for 2015 in order to “stabilise and expand the solar application market,” the regulator said.
Shares of Chinese solar companies rose early on Wednesday on domestic media reports that China planned to revise up its overall installation target for 2015.
Last month, the NEA had said China aimed to install 15 GW of solar generating capacity this year, but that it would consult the industry before setting a final target.
Hong Kong-listed solar firms like Shunfeng and GCL-Poly Energy were up 8 percent and 5.5 percent, respectively. The broader index was up 0.91 percent.
“This is good news for the industry,” Zhou Ziguang, analyst at Ping An Securities, said of the target. “The state is hoping to boost solar consumption, although the chance of exceeding the target should not be big.”
China in 2013 unveiled a plan to more than quadruple solar generating capacity to 35 GW by this year to shore up a solar panel sector battered by falling eurozone demand and trade disputes following the international financial crisis.
But transmission infrastructure has lagged behind the addition of generating capacity in China. That has resulted in idle solar farms in China’s vast western regions, where there is plenty of sunshine but not enough infrastructure to harness and transmit power to the populated areas of the south and east.
To redress the imbalance, China has been seeking to build more so-called distributed solar, meaning rooftop panels and other installations for small-scale use, to drive demand.
The energy regulator did not set a distributed solar target for 2015, following a setback last year due to challenges such as insufficient subsidies and bank support and difficulties in acquiring rooftop rights.
Of the 10.52 GW of solar installed in China last year - about a fifth of global demand - only 2.52 GW were distributed solar, sources have said. That’s less than an 8 GW target for distributed solar last year.
At end-2014, China had 26.52 GW of grid-connected solar power, nearly 2 percent of China’s total installed power capacity of 1,360 GW. (Reporting by David Stanway and Charlie Zhu; Editing by Tom Hogue)