The Hanergy Holding Group, created in 1994 and based in Beijing, is a major renewable-energy company, notably in thin-film solar technology. Its founder and chairman, Li Hejun, has written a book, “China’s New Energy Revolution,” recently translated into English, in which he argues that solar energy will lead a third industrial revolution. He spoke to Sonia Kolesnikov-Jessop.
Q. Why did you write your book?
A. Every important industrial revolution has actually been an energy revolution or an energy substitution, first with coal for wood, then oil for coal and now clean energy. Each revolution witnessed the rise of a great power, first the United Kingdom, then the United States, and the third revolution could be led by China. New kinds of clean energies are going to replace the previous ones, and there are different options: wind, hydraulic, and solar.
With Hanergy, I have had the opportunity of browsing all these alternatives, because we’ve worked on hydropower projects as well as several wind farms, but I now believe that for China, solar energy is the one that will replace traditional fossil fuels, because you find the sun everywhere, or nearly everywhere, and it’s free. Wind is currently the most cost-effective renewable resource, and in China, wind power generation is more cost-competitive than oil or gas-fired generation. But the distribution of wind resources is uneven, and wind strength varies significantly by regions. There is a similar problem for hydroelectric energy. I believe solar is the way forward.
What is interesting with this third revolution is that it’s not about a competition for resources; it’s a competition of core technologies.
Q. So far who is leading the push for solar energy?
A. Europe is No. 1, the Americans No. 2. I’d say China is third. The photovoltaic industry in China is internationally competitive in terms of capital, talent, and technology, but it also has several shortcomings. The industry has not developed in an orderly manner and as a result there is an imbalance between supply and demand, and we’re very dependent on foreign markets. The domestic market needs stronger policy support, too. But I believe that in the next decade China will be No. 1.
Q. Do you think one solar technology will dominate others?
A. There are many different types of solar technologies, and that’s fine; we’re like brothers and sisters. The market is big enough for everybody to survive, but thin-film, I think, is the current strategic trend and its production process has the advantage to be very clean. I like to compare crystalline-silicon panel to a black and white TV, and thin-film to an LCD TV. Thin-film is just a much more advanced technology, and I believe it will completely change the way we utilize energy because thin-film allows individuals to use solar energy easily, the way a big plant would with crystalline-silicon panels.
Q. Can you elaborate on this personal use and its application in our daily life?
A. The two advantages are flexibility and portability. The thin-film is so light you could have it on your jacket, on your hat and it could then power up your phone. It can embrace curves; that’s another big advantage. You can’t do that with a crystal panel. We are currently testing thin-film with Aston Martin Racing on the roof and rear windscreen of the car to power air-conditioning and other electrical functions in the car.
In the future, we’re planning to work with more commercial car manufacturers. Right now, we already have it on the rooftop of some commercial cars in China, and for now, you can help reduce the usage of the gasoline by 20 to 30 percent; but in the coming two to three years, you will be able to replace more. According to our calculations, you need six square miles of our solar module to generate electricity to power an electric car. By the end of next year, the first test cars using 100 percent solar will come out, and you will be able to drive 80 kilometers, or about 18 miles, fully powered.
Q. What about the higher costs of harnessing solar energy?
A. Prices are coming down. In fact, the cost for photovoltaic generation is now 50 percent lower than it was three years ago. China’s cost of solar power generation has fallen to below 1 yuan, or 16 cents, per kilowatt hour, and if we continue that trend, I predict that within three to five years the generation cost of solar cells will approach that of coal-fired power. It’s also important to note that subsidies for solar power are fading away. At Hanergy, we’ve optimized technology and cut production cost so that we can compete without subsidies.
A version of this special report appears in print on December 1, 2014, in The International New York Times.
About Hanergy Thin Film
Hanergy Thin Film is the world’s leading thin-film solar technology enterprise. It is mainly engaged in the research and development and design of large-scale thin-film solar turnkey production lines, as well as the development and operation of downstream solar power projects and application products. On November 27, 2013, Hanergy Thin Film was included in Morgan Stanley Capital International (MSCI) China Index. The Company is the No.1 solar thin film turnkey line provider in the world by scale and by profitability, having delivered about 2,000MW production lines. In 2013, the Company recorded a net profit of HKD2.06 billion, enjoying a remarkable growth of 57.2% year-on-year. Hanergy Solar places technology advancement as its top priority and is equipped with strong R&D capabilities, with a focus in advanced thin-film technology applied in flexible substrates. Hanergy Thin Film’s CIGS solar cells have reached a conversion efficiency of 20.5% under the guidance of a world-class thin-film solar energy expert team. In February 2014, Hanergy Thin Film acquired 100% interest of Hanergy UK and currently sells “Hanergy” branded thin-film solar photovoltaic equipment through IKEA UK directly. In May 2014, Hanergy Thin Film formed a strategic partnership with Tesla, a US electric vehicle maker, for the construction of PV Supercharger stations in China.