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China's 'sun king' hails clean-energy  

2007-04-23 11:53:51|  分类: 默认分类 |  标签: |举报 |字号 订阅

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China's 'sun king' hails clean-energy

Chinas sun king hails clean-energy - liblog - Liblog 第九传媒Chinas sun king hails clean-energy - liblog - Liblog 第九传媒

Chinas sun king hails clean-energy - liblog - Liblog 第九传媒


Chinas sun king hails clean-energy - liblog - Liblog 第九传媒


Chinas sun king hails clean-energy - liblog - Liblog 第九传媒 Chinas sun king hails clean-energy - liblog - Liblog 第九传媒


Physicist Shi Zhengrong spent the 1990s in an Australian labstudying solar power, a field he picked by chance. He expected todevote his life to science.

Still, Shi saw signs of a blossoming industry as Germany, Japanand other countries invested in cleaner power. Excited by a triphome that showed him China's rapid development, he startled friendsby abruptly moving his wife and two Australian-born sons to hishomeland in 2001 to launch a solar equipment company.

Four years later, Shi's confidence paid off when his SuntechPower Holdings Ltd. went public on the New York Stock Exchange andinvestors snapped up shares, turning him into a billionaire. Lastyear, Shi ranked No. 7 on the Forbes magazine list of China'srichest tycoons, with a $1.4 billion fortune.

Today, he has traded his research smock for blue business suits,a CEO's 63rd-floor corner office and a role advising the Chinesegovernment on renewable energy policy.

"We believed the share price would go up, but not so quickly,"said Shi, a 43-year-old with a boyish face, chuckling at what hesays was a rise marked by lucky breaks and timing. "I never thoughtI would be a rich guy."

Shi is the leader of an emerging group of Chinese entrepreneurswho are striking it rich by meeting fast-growing demand in Chinaand abroad for cleaner power.

They are getting a boost from China's efforts to curbenvironmental damage after two decades of breakneck growth thathave left it with some of the world's most badly polluted air andwater. Chinese leaders also are promoting renewable energy in hopesof reducing mounting dependence on imported oil, which they see asa strategic weakness.

"The technological prowess of China is growing a lot faster thanpeople in the West reckon," said Andrew Wilkinson, co-manager of afund at investment bank CLSA Emerging Markets that invests in Asianclean-energy industries.

Suntech's 3,500-strong work force at four sites in Chinaproduces photovoltaic cells, the delicate, hand-size black siliconpanels that can transform sunlight into electricity.

At a time when China's communist leaders are trying to turnlumbering state companies into nimble global competitors, Suntechalready goes head-to-head with Japanese and European rivals inforeign markets. Shi says all its technology comes from its ownlabs.

By last year, Suntech had risen to be the world's fourth-largestsolar cell maker, according to an annual ranking by PhotonInternational, an industry magazine. Japan's Sharp Corp. is themarket leader and other competitors include Q-Cells AG of Germany,Kyocera Corp. of Japan and BP Solar, owned by British oil companyBP PLC.

Worldwide, experts expect the industry's sales to grow by 20percent to 40 percent annually in coming years.

Suntech's key markets are Germany, Japan and Spain, whichsubsidize renewable energy by requiring utilities to buysolar-generated power and to pay more for it than they would forelectricity from oil or gas.

China accounted for just 10 percent of Suntech's 2006 sales of$599 million. The equipment is expensive enough that its use in thecompany's home market is limited to lighthouses, remote militaryposts and other sites far from power plants.

But Shi says the Chinese, U.S. and other markets will growquickly as governments respond to concern about global warming byrolling out clean-energy initiatives. Beijing has ordered Chineseutilities to generate at least 10 percent of their power fromsolar, wind, hydroelectric and other renewable sources by 2010,with the target rising after that.

Despite his science background, Shi talks like a tough-mindedbusinessman, and people in the industry say he is an ableentrepreneur who moves between East and West and the worlds oftechnology and finance. He shifts easily between English andChinese, and broke off twice during a 30-minute interview to takerapid-fire calls on his cell phone, first in the Shanghainesedialect, then in Mandarin.

"He comes across as a strong CEO who has a strong vision for hiscompany and the future of his industry," said David Edwards, anindustry analyst for ThinkEquity Partners in San Francisco.

Shi is part of a generation who left China by the tens ofthousands in the drab 1980s to study or work. They're now tricklingback, lured by its booming economy's new opportunities.

He is part of a growing group of returnees who are benefitingfrom government support for technology and new protections forprivate business. A few, like Shi, have become super wealthy byselling shares in their ventures on foreign stock exchanges.

Shi works 10- to 12-hour days and spends eight months a year onthe road in Europe, the United States or China. But he said hewants to devote more time to charity work, including anenvironmental education program that he launched with his wife.

Shi said he has little time to enjoy his wealth.

"I'm a scientist," Shi said. "My hobby is solving technicalproblems."

Shi arrived in Australia in 1988 to spend a year at theUniversity of New South Wales after getting his Ph.D. in physics inChina.

China had little to offer, so when Shi's fellowship ended, hehunted for a new post in Australia. A friend sent him to see MartinGreen, a New South Wales professor and solar pioneer. With nobackground in the field, Shi talked his way into a job.

"I really got into solar power by chance," he said.

Shi took a job at a company formed to commercialize advancesmade by New South Wales researchers. He and his Chinese-born wifebought a house in Sydney. He became an Australian citizen in 1993,with no plans to return to China.

"I never thought this solar business could take off or becomecommercially viable," he said. "I thought I just needed toconcentrate on my research and publish papers to do my job as ascientist."

But in the mid-1990s, Shi started visiting China regularly tolecture on solar power. Friends lobbied him to return to China.

At the same time, Shi was getting restless in Australia andwanted a new challenge. He made a snap decision after a two-weekvisit to China left him "really excited" about its potential.

"My life was too easy over there," he said. "I thought if I cameback I could do something really good."

The government of Wuxi, a city on Shanghai's western outskirtswith ambitions as a high-tech center, put up $6 million to financeSuntech, which started with 20 employees, and helped to land $5million in research grants.

"A lot of scholars aren't successful (in business) because theydon't have a sense of marketing and sales," Shi said. "From thebeginning, we had a very strong sense, whatever we do we have tomake money as soon as possible, because there is no money for us toburn."

Suntech's main 120,000-square-foot factory is still in Wuxi,though Shi bought out his state backers before the IPO with thehelp of private investors led by Goldman Sachs.

At the Wuxi factory, technicians in green Suntech uniforms,surgical masks and hair nets turn 4-inch silicon discs into solarcells.

The cells are coated with power-producing films and sandwichedbetween sheets of glass in groups of 72 to form solar panels, eachcapable of generating 175 watts of power. That is too little topower three typical 60-watt light bulbs, but Suntech notes that itwill light many more energy-saving bulbs.

Production is growing so fast that just two years after thefactory opened in a special high-tech zone, Suntech is building anew one the same size a block away.

Shi said Suntech's goal is to develop superior technology, notjust rely on China's low labor costs. But he said lower prices forskills and equipment will give the company an edge by making its$20 million annual research budget go further. A technical collegegraduate can be hired for 2,000 yuan ($250) a month.

Shi said that as technology improves, Suntech hopes to be ableto cut prices within five years from the current $3.50 per solarpanel to $2.50 -- a level that he said would compete withtraditional power in California, a big potential market.

Other Chinese companies are springing up to supply solarequipment, wind turbines and pollution-control technology. AChinese law that took effect Jan. 1 -- Shi helped to draft it --requires local authorities to favor renewable energy. Thegovernment has ordered power plants and factories to startcomplying with long-ignored emissions standards.

Those initiatives will create opportunities in industriesranging from wind turbines and nuclear power plants to pollutioncontrol and raising crops needed to produce ethanol and otherclean-burning fuels, said Jing Ulrich, chairwoman of China equitiesfor JP Morgan.

"It's so huge," Ulrich said, "no one can estimate thescale."

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