Company expects market to hit 46 gigawatts; experts doubt viability

Chinese renewable energy giant Hanergy Holding Group said Monday it will unveil three to five solar-powered cars based on its thin film photovoltaic technology later this year.

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Experts said the move will bring the brand closer to consumers but also contain risks in terms of economic viability.

The car models will be unveiled in October and will integrate six square meters of thin film solar modules on their frames.

Theoretically, four hours’ exposure to sunshine could produce enough electricity to power a one-ton car to run 80 to 100 kilometers, the Beijing-based company said at a press conference on Monday.

The group’s Hong Kong-listed subsidiary Hanergy Thin Film Power Group saw its share price rise by 1.66 percent Monday to close at HK$3.67 ($0.47).

The scale of the solar car market could hit 46 gigawatts of capacity by 2020, when the number of all new-energy vehicles including solar cars worldwide reaches an estimated 5 to 10 million units, the company said.

Hanergy said it will cooperate with two domestic and three foreign automakers to develop the solar-powered vehicles, but provided no further details.

Experts said rolling out products that could be directly used by consumers will make the brand well-known but solar-powered cars seem to be too ambitious.

Zhao Zheng, a professor at Beijing Normal University and a green energy expert, said Hanergy has been aggressive in recent years with promoting its brand and the green concept.

“But a lot of these promotions seemed to just be talking about concepts. A better way to promote green energy to the public would be solid progress in applying photovoltaic technology to buildings, which is easier to achieve compared with solar cars,” Zhao told the Global Times on Monday.

“Green car manufacturing is a highly competitive industry. Cooperating with leading local brands such as BYD and global brands such as Mercedes-Benz, BMW, and Tesla, all of which have rolled out new-energy models, should be able to help Hanergy to mitigate risks in its pursuit,” Zhao said.

Online video content provider LeTV Information Technology Co has also gotten caught up in the new-energy car frenzy.

LeTV announced on December 9, 2014 that it will work on a new electric car featuring Internet technologies.

LeTV aims to overtake the traditional European, American, Japanese and South Korean giants in the industry and said its model will be much cheaper than current ones on the market.

LeTV invested in US electric auto design company Atieva in the summer of 2014.

Gao Jian, an industry analyst at Shanghai-based consultancy LMC Automotive, said the cost will be a key issue in promoting solar cars.

“China’s solar industry is focused on manufacturing panels but is weak in the actual application of solar panels. China’s whole application-related industry lags behind counterparts in the US and the EU,” Gao told the Global Times Monday.

“As China has yet to have successes with residential communities harnessing solar energy, I would say the application [of solar energy] in the automobile industry would remain in labs,” Gao noted.

Gao expects the models will be very expensive and will be beyond the reach of common households.

Hanergy paraded the advantages of its flexible, lightweight thin film photovoltaic modules on September 13, 2014 when it provided fast deployment solar charging products at the FIA Formula E Championship in Beijing, the world’s first ever full electric car race series.

Hanergy also struck a deal with US electric car manufacturer Tesla Motors in April 2014 to build two charging stations in Beijing for the automaker’s Model S.

Besides solar-powered cars, the company also sensed an opportunity in charging smartphones with its thin film technology and the number of smartphones in the world is expected to surpass 6 billion by 2020, the company said in its press release.

On August 13, 2014, Hanergy Holding Group announced the purchase of Alta Devices Inc, a California-based developer of thin film solar cells.

The acquisition came a year after Hanergy bought Arizona-based Global Solar Energy Inc.

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