Himin: China's Solar Giant
Once a traditional agricultural area in Shandong, Dezhou is now known as "Solar Valley". And at the vanguard of its drive toward renewable energy is Himin Solar Energy Group.
Himin: China's Solar GiantBy Hsien-Shen Wen
From CommonWealth Magazine (vol. 365 )
“You can refuse to use Himin products, but for the sake of future generations, you can't avoid using solar power.”
Wearing an old brown jacket, the frizzy-haired “King of Solar Power” Huang Ming, chairman of Himin Solar Energy Group, sits in his sparsely-decorated office chatting about everything from the energy shortage humankind will inevitably face, to the troubles of today's youth, to China's roads – all the while looking no different from a professor from any Shandong university.
Located in the northern plains of China's Shandong Province, DezhouCity has traditionally been an agricultural area, but these days, its residents have gone rather high-tech.
“Solar Valley” Astonishes the World
You can get to “SolarValley” by following a road lit by solar-powered street lamps. Buildings big and small are fitted with evacuated tube solar collectors, and colosseum-sized factories are cropping up one after another.
This is the largest solar power industry base in the world.
2006 was the 10th anniversary of Huang's establishing Himin Solar Energy Group, as well as the year when Himin began production of solar water heaters, for which the total solar collector surface areas exceeded 2 million sq. meters – twice as large as the annual European Union solar industry output, four times that of North America, and growing at over 70 percent per annum.
Himin's sales of solar energy water heaters over the past decade have saved approximately 10 million tons of coal, as well as sparing the world the pollution produced by the burning of that fossil fuel.
Traditionally, the solar power industry has relied on small-scale production. Huang believes that this is because consumers and businesses do not recognize the importance of solar energy. There is an enormous market demand out there, and “scarcity creates opportunity.” There is a huge market waiting to be satisfied. For that, Huang created the first large-scale, complete production line for solar energy products.
“100 European solar power plants put together couldn't fill our new plant. We are at the international forefront of the industry,” says Himin Group brand manager Wang Jiuwei.
Last May, when Huang spoke at the 14th session of the UN Commission on Sustainable Development, his unique experiences and his insights into the commercialization of solar technology and its usage astounded his audience. When CNN's “Global Challenges” interviewed him in Dezhou for their segment “Simmering Sun,” they boldly portended: “Welcome to the future, a future when China is run by the sun.”
While this may be a yet-unfulfilled prophecy, the sun is already running the daily lives of many. Housewives have learned to cook using solar power, and village women who used to bathe twice a month are now bathing twice a day.
The No. 1 Solar Power Brand
Huang originally studied petroleum engineering, and joined a research institution upon graduation. Everyone who researches petroleum knows that its exhaustion is inevitable, and so Huang dove into solar energy R&D. When Deng Xiaoping's loosening of market restraints resulted in an economic boom in the late-1990s, Huang decided to try his hand at business.
In the beginning, the company was based in a small, dimly-lit storage room, and survived on loans. During one brain-storming session, the young staff threw out a cacophonous array of opinions, deciding that the company needed more than just solar energy – it needed a brand. “In China, or even in the global solar energy market, what's lacking most is a brand.”
And so, within the first year of establishing Himin, Huang bought very costly commercial time slots on CCTV, nearly depleting the company till, but also making his corporation of a hundred employees China's number one solar-energy brand.
However, client complaints mounted as the industry's product design and technology progressed too slowly. That year, Huang established a solar energy technology research institute in Dezhou, scrapped a large amount of merchandise, some it only half completed, launched internal reform, and began R&D on a new generation of products.
From that point on, Himin became more and more invested in and expert at solar technology R&D. Its in-house research institute collaborates with domestic and international technology sectors on over 100 research topics, including four national research projects. It has also achieved the international standard in solar-powered seawater desalinization and high-temperature semiconductor thermal energy conversion.
Described by his employees as a man “mad” for technology, Huang's name card carries only a few short titles, one of which is “Professorial-grade Senior Engineer.”
No Choking to Death on Money
China's enormous energy consumption is a major world issue, and Himin's innovative lead in solar power has generated mounting international attention.
In its first five years, Himin has been visited and given much encouragement by members of the Political Bureau of the Communist Party Congress Central Committee, the head of the Central Organization Department, the governor of Shandong Province, and foreign ambassadors to Beijing.
Himin's large-scale production model has also been of great interest to international private equity funds, which have already come knocking. But Huang is very wary about listing his company: “I keep asking myself why a company even needs to be listed—earning a bit less won't kill you, but the business could choke to death on money.”
With its brand awareness, and technology and service standards all on the rise, Himin Solar Energy Group is growing fast and doing well. But what Huang still loves most is spending time with his family each night, playing soccer on Saturday and Sunday afternoons, blogging an hour or two a day, discussing national, personal and business issues with friends online, “preaching” to the young, and engaging in heated debates. “I'm proud to be in solar energy, because it helps to solve a problem threatening mankind,” says Huang, who has only one hope: “Just imagine: if, one day, the U.S., Europe, and the rest of the world can do what we do, and hundreds of millions of people the world over all use solar energy – what a world and what a civilization we will have!”
Translated from the Chinese by Ellen Wieman