The world's largest solar water heater manufacturer Himin Group has always been ambitious to expand its empire with more heaters installed on rooftops. Now it is beginning to realize the ambition by developing green residential property in an area called "China's Solar Valley" in Dezhou, a prefecture-level city in northwestern Shandong province.
Huang Ming, chairman of Himin Group, which is based in Dezhou, said the decision was part of the company's strategy to transform Solar Valley from an R&D center into an area of eco-friendly residential buildings covering a wide range of solar technologies.
The Solar Valley reputation came in part when Dezhou beat renowned British university town Oxford and Australia's Adelaide as host of the 2010 International Solar City Congress. Huang was an instrumental lobbyist for Dezhou and as Yogi Goswami, the president of the International Solar Energy Society said, "Huang put Dezhou on the map."
Huang said the new project would enhance the company's international reputation.
"When people come to visit the Solar Valley, they see magnificent buildings, they will trust me and want to do business with me. And that branding is priceless. "
China Solar Valley, more than 330 hectares in area, covers a wide range of solar technologies such as water heating, air conditioning and solar-equipped buildings. It is trying to develop itself as the country's center of solar thermal production, logistics, research, quality testing and tourism.
The valley's conference building for the 4th International Solar Cities Congress in 2010 has applied advanced solar technologies and the 60,000-squre-meter floor area saves more than 70 percent energy, compared to a conventionally lighted and heated building of the same size.
Dezhou's designation as a city of the sun comes not so much from the amount of sunlight it gets, but from its production of solar power equipment.
China Himin Solar Energy Group, is seen to be largely behind the city's reputation. The group reported revenue of 2 billion yuan in 2006.
The company stopped producing cheap, low-capacity heaters in 2003, and turned to high-quality units, raising prices from 1,500 yuan to 3,000 yuan for basic models. Now the price can be as high as 20,000 yuan for a luxury home.
Even though Himin's heaters are some of the most expensive sold domestically, the company reportedly occupies 14 percent of the market.
More than 2 million sq m of Himin's heaters alone are installed on rooftops every year, nearly twice the total of Europe and North America.
China's solar industry is growing at 20 percent to 30 percent a year. By 2010, the nation will rely on solar power for 1 percent of its energy consumption, according to the Xinhua News Agency.
By then, the rooftop heaters will save China from burning 22.5 million tons of standard coal a year. That will help China reduce greenhouse gas emissions. And that is also what Huang works for.
But when he promoted his green ambition in China, he felt setbacks in cities because property developers did not want to install heaters on the rooftops.
Although China accounts for around 80 percent of the world market, solar heaters make up only 20 percent of China's total water heating units. Hotels, universities and industrial plants have yet to catch on, Huang says.
"We face challenges in big cities such as Beijing. Many residents are not allowed to install heaters on their rooftops," he says.
He has found solutions to establish a construction company that sells solar heaters directly to property development companies and installs them on the rooftops of new buildings, and the approach has succeeded in the cities of Dezhou, Qingdao and Dalian.
But cooperating with property developers has many limitations and Huang is unsatisfied. He wants to develop a solar residential building with the most advanced solar technology and wide use of solar heaters.