China became a world leader in the production of photovoltaic panels, prompting a major price cut in the market. One of the leading companies in China is Suntech Power Holdings. With offices and factories in 30 countries around the world, Suntech claims 70% of all solar panels installations.
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Suntech products can also be found in Israel, promoting as much as 50% of Israeli photovoltaic power production.
Dr. Zhengrong Shi, who founded Suntech and was named the "world first green billionaire," recently welcomed Ynet to a visit at the company's headquarters in China, and shared his view on the future of solar energy.
Zhengrong (49) grew up in a lower-class family in China, in the city near Shanghai where the Suntech factory is now located. He completed his studies in Australia and specialized in solar panels. Zhengrong returned to China in 2001 with a mission to found a facility that would reduce the cost of solar panels.
With the aid of government funding, he established Suntech and did most of the personnel training himself. In order to further reduce the price of its products, in 2004 Suntech decided to purchase all of the system's components from local manufacturers. Today, all of the company's suppliers are within a three hours drive of its main facility. In 2008, the company built a $100 million research and development division.
Suntech panels are installed in many countries worldwide, including Spain, Australia, US, Germany, Switzerland and Japan. Amongst Suntech's major achievements are the roof over Sun Francisco's airport, the 2010 Expo show held in China and the 2008 Olympic Games where Dr. Shi was honored with carrying the Olympic Torch.
Suntech panels can be found in many sites in Israel, including the first and so far only solar farm, located in Kibbutz Ketura, north of Eilat.
Out of a total of 220 solar megawatts produced in Israel, 100 megawatts are harvested from Suntech's panels. The company aims to double its power production in Israel, reaching 200 megawatts and last week it inaugurated a new research center in the Arava region.
The first Israeli solar farm in Kibbutz Ketura (Photo: Itamar Greenberg)
Danni Danan, CEO of Enerpoint, Suntech's main representative in Israel, told Ynet that "Over the past four years we witnessed an increase in power production at Suntech sites. We have reached the stage where solar power is cheaper to produce than regular power but the regulations are preventing it from taking root."
Suntech said that Israel is progressing in the right direction: "Many countries talk about solar power subsidies but haven't implemented them yet, while Israel has seen success in the field over the past four-five years. I'm certain it can triumph," Dr. Zhengrong said.
Panels tested at Suntech (Photos courtesy of Suntech)
Panels tested at Suntech
Visitors at Suntech development center are greeted by two impressive buildings, covered in solar panels. The facility has two production lines, manual and automated, and new products are thoroughly tested prior to being released to the market; including simulations of sand storms, strong gales and extreme heat and frost scenarios.
Suntech development center (Photo: Billie Frenkel)
Zhengrong says the company invests $40 million in R&D annually, and has reached 25% efficiency under lab conditions. "If you look at the return on investment (ROI) aspects, solar energy is highly reliable. Petrol prices are rising, wind is not always available and nuclear power has safety issues."
He further added that governments should lead the solar energy field and set a clear path for the future. His vision is creating a global solar network, producing solar power 24 hours a day and transferring power from sunny areas to darker ones as the earth rotates.
Zhengrong said China is already building such a network: "We already have the internet – a global communication network, and I believe we will soon have 'power-net,' a global super-grid. Every country should build such a network and once we connect them, solar power can be provided from India to the Middle East or from Russia to Canada – everything will be connected."
Billie Frenkel was a guest of Suntech China
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