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December 8, 2015 | Why Do We Care About Solar?
In 1977, the world was just beginning to learn about solar power. With only 500 kW worth of panels installed worldwide, one watt of solar-produced energy sold for a staggering $76 USD. Also that year, the now-ubiquitous solar-powered calculators first came to market.
Forty years later, the total installed solar power in the world has increased by a factor of 500, and the same amount of solar energy now costs only $0.61 — nearly a 100% decrease. Solar energy has transcended from low-consumption devices to now powering entire office buildings and neighborhoods (and, in the case of Vatican City, even entire nations).
Without a doubt, solar is a growing movement. As solar power continues to become cheaper and more accessible, more and more people will begin to adopt it. And the individuals leading the field of solar technology show no signs of slowing down the development of solar tech.
But who exactly are the change makers behind this movement? And why are they so fervently pursuing it?
These leaders don’t see what the typical solar consumer sees. Instead of pursuing solar to simply save energy or lead eco-friendly lifestyles, they see a different side of the story — a much more personal one.
These are their stories.
Huang Ming, China’s ‘Solar King’
In the early 1990s, Huang Ming had a very stable lot.
“I was a petroleum engineer, a research fellow,” Ming remembers. He worked for the Petroleum Research Institute of Dezhou, a city an hour away from Beijing. “I had a very bright future in [that] original career.”
But once he met his current wife, he began to think a bit differently.
“I took my wife to my hometown near Shanghai, and I wanted to show her the beauty of a nearby lake. But the lake had become so dirty and stinky, and my wife got a little bit angry at that — and at me as well.” He began to wonder if his research work in Dezhou could be contributing to the pollution that disgusted his partner.
But it was really the birth of his daughter that made him change heart. One year after that trip to Shanghai, Ming and his wife welcomed their first child into the world. As she grew, so did Ming’s clouded conscious, realizing he could leave his daughter in a world without clean water or clean skies.
“And I felt a bit guilty. So I decided to change something.”
Using the money he earned as a researcher, he began to secretly pore over books on solar technology from Germany and the USA. “I decided to found a small laboratory [to develop solar tech further],” he said. “I rented something like a garage [and started] to make solar heaters.”
At first it wasn’t a business for him at all. “I just did it as research,” Ming reminisced. But very soon, he began to pursue it much more vigorously.
“So I used up all of my fortune [that I made in petroleum] to fund my solar research,” he chuckled.
Nearly twenty years later, Ming’s responsibility to his child and future generations has certainly taken off. His company, Himin Solar, is now the world’s largest producer of solar water heaters, and he directly employs 3000 people in the company. With 623 national patents under his belt, Ming is also developing the world’s largest solar city development project in Dezhou — the so-called Solar Valley — currently worth over 8 billion USD.
Due to his ambition, in 2011 he was granted the prestigious “Right Livelihood Award” in Switzerland — the first ever awarded to a Chinese entrepreneur. Not surprisingly, he is praised among the international community as the founder of the Chinese solar energy industry.
Why does he continue to pursue these innovative solar projects? “For the blue sky of our children,” proudly states the slogan of his enterprise.
(To learn more about the faces of solar at COP21, see Why Do We Care About Solar Part II)
Zach Bielak is one of Conergy's Future Solar Leaders. Zach is a social sustainability research fellow who was graduated from Rice University in Houston, Texas.