Company charts a path for a future powered by solar energy.
I’M IN my hotel room. I draw back the curtains to find dark square cells embedded in the glass. This is unusual in all hotel rooms but not so in the Power Valley Jinjiang International Hotel in Baoding, in the Hebei province of China – this hotel is partly supported by solar power and the squares in my windows are actually solar cells.
I venture outside the five-star hotel. Straining my eyes against the gleaming sunshine, I spot solar cells on the hotel facade. The cells have been integrated into the building surfaces to tap sunlight and turn it into energy. One can imagine the photovoltaic effect that is taking place – sunlight that hits the silicon cells is converted into electricity which then runs the air-conditioning, lights and other appliances within the 291-room hotel.
Developed and owned by solar panel manufacturer Yingli Green Energy, the hotel showcases how a building can effectively incorporate solar technology to reduce electricity expenses and hence, its carbon footprint.
In the lobby, an electronic screen shows the ambient temperature to be 25°C and the radiation received is 851 watts per sqm. The highest recorded is said to be over 1,000 watts per sqm; the higher the radiation, the higher the electricity that is generated.
The benefits are seemingly intangible but measurements on carbon offsets displayed on the screen show that the photovoltaic system in the hotel has saved 1,076.9 tonnes of carbon dioxide and 4.1 tonnes of sulphur dioxide since it was installed in late 2008.
The hotel has two types of solar installations – conventional rooftop panels and building-integrated photovoltaic cells where solar modules are incorporated into glass (like those in my room window) and mounted on walls to form part of the building material. To up the green ante, a system has been fitted to process wastewater and recycle it for heating, cooling and water usage needs.
Phase 2 of the development saw solar technology being installed at the convention centre. To date, the hotel and convention centre have a total installed capacity of 1.5 megawatt (MW), which can generate approximately 1,539MW-hour of electricity per annum – the equivalent in supply to 375 typical homes in Malaysia through the year. The photovoltaic system meets 10% of the electricity needs of the hotel; the rest still comes from the state grid.
The hotel is just one of many projects that Yingli has made its mark on. The company’s solar modules are being used in different projects worldwide, from solar-powered lights to large-scale power stations, all with a cumulative installation capacity of over eight gigawatts.
“We are proud of the fact that one out of 10 solar modules worldwide are produced here in our factory in Baoding,” says company founder and chairman Miao Liansheng.
Its past success stories include a partnership with Huanghe Hydropower to supply modules in Wulan and Golmud, the two highest altitude solar plants in the world; a ground-mounted power plant in Moura, Portugal (46MW); the F1 Grand Prix circuit in Hockenheim, Germany (1MW); and the New York Jets Training Facility in New Jersey (690KW). In Malaysia, it supplied the modules for Amcorp Power’s 10MW solar plant in Gemas, Negri Sembilan. Completed last August, the project can produce 13.6 million kilowatt-hour of electricity a year.
Much of what Yingli Green Energy is today was built from Miao’s far-sighted dream to harness boundless sunshine to provide an alternative source of clean and renewable energy.
When set up in 1987, the company produced cosmetics. In 1998, it received backing from the Chinese government that was exploring the possibilities of a photovoltaic industry to power a green economy. Miao thus started his green energy venture, and by 2003, successfully produced China’s first poly-silicon ingot, which are huge blocks of high-purity silicon that are sliced into thin wafers for use in the production of solar panels.
Today, the company is one of the largest vertically integrated photovoltaic manufacturers globally, with 30 branch offices worldwide and three research and development centres in China, United States and Spain. (The term vertically here refers to the entire photovoltaic value chain, from the production of poly-silicon down to the assembly of photovoltaic modules.)
A tour of its factory headquarters in Baoding provides insights into various processes like ingot casting and wafering, solar cell production, and module assembly. It also has production sites in Hainan, Tianjin and Hengshui.
It was an eye-opening experience to learn about the different steps central to making a solar panel. Silicon chunks are cooked in high temperatures and cooled before the hardened blocks are sliced into thin wafers. These fragile, paper-thin wafers then go through a texturing process to increase its surface area of sunlight absorption, followed by the injection of phosphorus to turn them into solar conducting cells.
Finally, the crystalline silicon photovoltaic cells are strung and framed together in circuits to create panels, ready for testing and packaging.
For 2012 and 2013, Yingli was the largest photovoltaic module manufacturer (shipment wise) worldwide. Last year, it shipped modules with 3.2GW capacity. Angie Koh, Yingli Green Energy Singapore business development director, says the company has a global market share of 10% to 12% and is ranked in the top three in the industry.
It also teamed up with China’s National Institute of Standardisation to develop the Photovoltaic Industry Clean Production Evaluation Index, a benchmark for clean manufacturing of solar cells.
Last year, it became the first Chinese company and first photovoltaic manufacturer to join the WWF Climate Savers Programme, where it committed to reduce greenhouse gases by 13% by 2015 (per megawatt of photovoltaic module, from the baseline year of 2010).
It is also the first photovoltaic company worldwide to obtain a product carbon footprint certification from the TÜV Rheinland Group in Europe, an independent service provider that conducts testing of photovoltaic modules.
“We take measures to ensure that the production of our solar cells is in line with the reduction of our carbon footprint by improving our energy efficiency, as well as the amount of energy required to produce solar panels relative to the amount they generate during their lifetimes,” Koh says.
Other efforts described in its 2013 corporate sustainability report are wastewater recycling and producing solar power for their manufacturing facilities.
For company founder Miao, his achievement in a span of 16 years is a remarkable feat. “We want to continue doing this for the betterment of the world, without neglecting the affordability, of course.”