On camera, HUANG MING appears a small, softly-spoken man. But beneath this grandfather’s persona lie great ambition and drive. During our interview he jokes about his nickname as ‘the solar energy mad man’. He is, in fact, the founder of one of the world’s most successful solar energy companies.
We meet Huang Ming at the SUN AND MOON BUILDING, the eye-catching centrepiece of SOLAR VALLEY and HQ for his company Himin Solar Energy Group. Huang Ming has spent the last thirty years building both his company and Solar Valley up from scratch. Today, Himin Solar is the world’s biggest producer of solar heaters as well a pioneer in the research and development of other everyday solar products. Goldman Sachs is among the company’s investors.
Like a proud father, Huang Ming lights up when he talks about the Sun and Moon building, describing it as one of his favourite buildings. It is an impressive, white semi-circular structure – its shape inspired by the pictographic characters for sun and moon. At night, photovoltaic powered LEDs light up its exterior, and inside, the hot water, heating, refrigeration is all solar-powered. The glass has been specially developed by Himin to insulate, capture natural light and provide sound-proofing. Across Dezhou, this impressive record continues. It has become a hub for green innovation, described by the International Solar Cities Congress as a ‘centre of gravity for renewable technologies’. The city hosts what Huang Ming believes to be the world’s first solar energy factory roof. Integrated solar thermal or photo-voltaic technology are in 95% of new buildings and solar water heater use in Dezhou exceeds 3 million square metres, approximately equal to the total amount installed in the EU and twice that of the US, according to the International Renewable Energy Agency.
More than 300km away, Himin’s technologies are also used in Beijing to power Mao Zedong’s Mausoleum. And across China, half the population use solar energy, making up 76% of the world’s solar consumption
But 30 years ago, it was all very different. Huang Ming worked in the oil industry and the Dezhou area was farmland. The 80s was a decade that changed Huang Ming’s life.
In 1985, recently married, Huang Ming took his new wife to his grandmother’s home in Wuxi, on the journey regaling her with tales of the beauty of the city’s Tai Lake. But when they arrived, the lake was dank, black, and smelly. Huang Ming was stung by the disappointment of his new bride, as well as the loss of this natural beauty.
The birth of his daughter followed several years after and Huang Ming became anxious about how her life would be without fossil fuel and clear skies. With the support of his wife, he decided to plough his savings and time into solar energy research. And so began his dream to create Solar Valley.
As Huang Ming shows us round Dezhou in his green, company boiler jacket, he talks about his dreams for China. He is the first to admit that the innovations at Solar Valley might not always be the best, but they are the first. His Sun and Moon Mansion uses 10% of the energy used in conventional buildings. “Imagine, “ he says, “if electricity consumption could be cut to 10% of what we use today, we could solve environmental problems like pollution and the energy crisis.”
So, can China prosper AND step away from renewables?
The solar energy entrepreneurs in Dezhou generate an annual turnover of more than $3 billion USD.