The GOOD 100: Chinese Solar

Here Comes the (Chinese) Sun: How Chinese innovation is going to revolutionize solar power for the rest of the world

Residents of the city of Rizhao claim to be the first Chinese to greet the sun each day as it rises from the Yellow Sea. In fact, the city's name is a condensed form of the Chinese phrase ri qu shien zhao, which literally means "first to get sunshine." They also make some of the best use of the more than 100 kilowatt-hours of power the sun pours down on each square meter of Earth over the course of a sunny day.Though Rizhao's 3 million residents are seemingly overshadowed by nearby Qingdao-a larger city famous worldwide for its eponymous beer (you might know it as Tsingtao)-Rizhao boasts perhaps a bigger distinction: It is the first city in all of China to pledge to become carbon-neutral.That China has surpassed the United States to become the leading emitter of greenhouse gases is no secret. The Chinese curse on the climate will have to be reckoned with, but the Chinese also have a gift to give the world: developing cheap renewable energy sources, particularly solar power. Low-cost manufacturing in China is transforming the entire array of clean energy sources, like previously expensive photovoltaic cells-and, in the process, helping to clean up the world's energy supply.Witness Rizhao. Rooftops in newly constructed apartment blocks as well as on the houses in the surrounding countryside are often covered in angled panels of dark tubing. The tubes soak up sunlight, using its warmth to heat water within and eliminate the need to burn fossil fuel or suck up electricity for that purpose. Such solar hot-water heaters are mandatory, and are responsible (along with all the city's other solar efforts) for cutting energy use compared to alternatives by 348 million kilowatt-hours per year-cutting greenhouse gases at the same time. That's enough electricity to power more than 30,000 U.S. homes for a year.Indeed, China has become the world's largest market for and producer of such solar hot-water devices, which have become cheaper than traditional electric or gas-fired varieties thanks to this growing demand. Companies like Himin Solar Energy Group churn out solar hot-water heaters from factories big enough to build jumbo jets; China as a whole installed 246 million square feet of solar hot-water-heater panels in 2007.And it's not just hot water that Rizhao gets from the sun, as evidenced by the gleaming arrays of blue-black photovoltaic cells beneath the lampposts lining the seashore of this resort town.Rizhao has company in its use of the sun. In Jiangsu Province outside Shanghai lies China's "Solar Valley," which took its name from our own Silicon Valley, and which focuses on the same element. After all, silicon, a semiconductor, is an important component of both computer chips and solar cells.Suntech, a photovoltaic company with the world's largest production capacity and JA Solar both have facilities in Jiangsu; globally, Suntech can churn out enough panels in a year to produce-under ideal conditions-1 gigawatt of energy.

Suntech alone has given China-and the world-its first solar billionaire: Shi Zhengrong, who has built the company into a solar powerhouse since its founding, in 2001. And unlike competitors such as Q-Cells, from Germany; Sharp, from Japan; and the U.S.-based SunPower; among others, Suntech has opted not to automate its production processes."We've chosen to rely on labor for the obvious reason of cost: Labor rates are so much lower [in China]," says Steve Chadima, the U.S. spokesman for Suntech. "We can more easily crank up or down our operations depending on market demand."And it's not just workers that come cheap in China: "Glass, aluminum-all those materials are less expensive in China than they are in the U.S. or Europe," Chadima notes. "All the way around there's low cost."That has led many foreign manufacturers to open operations in China or elsewhere in Asia. Evergreen Solar, for example, a Massachusetts-based company, recently opened a Chinese factory, while panel producer First Solar has built several factories capable of cranking out more than 500 megawatts' worth of solar cells in Malaysia.And that means, ultimately, cheap solar power. "It's very possible to get down to something in the range of one dollar per watt to manufacture a silicon solar panel," Chadima says, though U.S. panel prices in July were more than $4.50 per watt.But, as an example, Chadima points to the 30-megawatt system that the power company Austin Energy is building with Suntech PV modules in Texas. Austin Energy expects to charge just 17 cents per kilowatt-hour of electricity. That's not much more than the roughly 13 cents per kilowatt-hour residential customers paid on average for electricity this past May in that state."In the case of solar, China has an advantage in its manufacturing capacity," says Li Junfeng, the secretary general of the Chinese Renewable Energy Industry Association. "It can produce large quantities of products at a relatively low cost."Cheap, in this case, does not mean poor quality. Suntech, for example, is considered one of the top five solar-cell producers in the world in terms of quality and has been used in projects from Germany to the United States.
"Within three to four years, we'll be talking about the pure economic benefit of photovoltaics."
Like its international competitors, Suntech offers a range of products, including advanced solar cells; its highly efficient, more expensive Pluto module can turn as much as 19 percent of the sunlight that falls on it into electricity. "In this case, you've got essentially a company known as a low-cost leader but, at the same time, introducing some of the highest technology in the world," notes Bates Marshall of Sixtron, a Canadian company that peddles solar-cell-manufacture technology.Across the market, however, quality can still be a concern. While some of the finest solar cells in the world come from China, there are a host of smaller companies producing even cheaper, lower-quality cells. "There are three to five name-brand module companies and maybe 160 total module manufacturers," Marshall adds. There are "a lot of no-name panels coming out of China that have some dubious quality."Regardless, as soon as 2011, Marshall predicts, modules could cost as little as $1.40 apiece, which will put them in the same price range as other energy sources. "Within three to four years, we'll be talking about the pure economic benefit of photovoltaics," Marshall says.And that's just in the United States. "All the solar photovoltaics are for export with a very small share for domestic use," CREIA's Li notes of Chinese-made solar panels. But "Chinese companies are being optimistic about the future because the government has set all these targets for carbon-emission reduction."

Rizhao, for its part, has a host of clean competitors-and that's a good thing. Dezhou City, also in Shandong Province, boasts Himin's 200,000-square-foot factory for making solar hot-water heaters as well as other solar-power manufactures. Baoding, a city in Hebei Province, offers solar, wind, and other renewable energy manufacturing. And Wuxi, in Jiangsu, is home to Suntech, among others. The Chinese government, for its part, aims to install 1.8 gigawatts of solar power nationwide by 2020-but expects to more than quadruple that goal on current progress.Rizhao is one of just four cities worldwide to even attempt so-called carbon neutrality (the others being Arendal, Norway; Vancouver, Canada; and Växjö, Sweden), according to the United Nations Environment Programme.To reach its goal, Rizhao will have to employ an arsenal of environmental improvements, from a so-called circular economy, in which industrial waste gets cycled back as energy, to harvesting the power offered for free by the city's 260 days of yearly sunshine.As a result of these efforts, Rizhao, unlike the rest of China, is using nearly a third less energy while cutting its carbon dioxide emissions by 50 percent.Solar, it seems, is rising in the east.Top photo by Derek Brown, lower photo by Rhett A. Butler

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Former Secretary of State, first lady, and winner of the popular vote in the 2016 presidential election, Hillary Clinton, sat own for an epic, two-and-a--half hour interview with Howard Stern on his SiriusXM show Wednesday.

She was there to promote "The Book of Gutsy Women," a book about heroic women co-written with her daughter, Chelsea Clinton.

In the far-reaching conversation, Clinton and the self-proclaimed "King of All Media" and, without a doubt, the best interviewer in America discussed everything from Donald Trump's inauguration to her sexuality.

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Offering parental leave for new fathers could help close the gender gap, removing the unfair "motherhood penalty" women receive for taking time off after giving birth. However, a new study finds that parental leave also has a pay gap. Men are less likely to take time off, however, when they do, they're more likely to get paid for it.

A survey of 2,966 men and women conducted by New America found that men are more likely to receive paid parental leave. Over half (52%) of fathers had fully paid parental leave, and 14% of fathers had partially paid parental leave. In comparison, 33% of mothers had fully paid parental leave and 19% had partially paid parental leave.

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Bans on plastic bags and straws can only go so far. Using disposable products, like grabbing a plastic fork when you're on the go, can be incredibly convenient. But these items also contribute to our growing plastic problem.

Fortunately, you can cut down on the amount of waste you produce by cutting down on disposable products. And even more fortunately, there are sustainable (and cute) replacements that won't damage the environment.

Coconut bowls


Who says sustainable can't also be stylish? These cute coconut bowls were handmade using reclaimed coconuts, making each piece one of a kind. Not only are they organic and biodegradable, but they're also durable, in case your dinner parties tend to get out of hand. The matching ebony wood spoons were polished with the same coconut oil as the bowls.

Cocostation Set of 2 Vietnamese Coconut Bowls and Spoons, $14.99; at Amazon

Solar powered phone charger


Why spend time looking around for an outlet when you can just harness the power of the sun? This solar powered phone charger will make sure your phone never dies as long as you can bask in the sun's rays. As an added bonus, this charger was made using eco-friendly silicone rubber. It's win-win all around.

Dizaul Solar Charger, 5000mAh Portable Solar Power Bank, $19.95; at Amazon, $19.95; at Amazon

Herb garden kit

Planter Pro

Put some green in your life with this herb planter. The kit comes with everything you need to get a garden growing, including a moisture meter that helps you determine if your herbs are getting the right amount of food to flourish. All the seeds included are certified to be non-GMO and non-hybrids, meaning you can have fresh, organic herbs right at your fingertips.

Planter Pro's Herb Garden Cedar Planter, $39.00; at Amazonedar Planter, $39.00; at Amazon

Reusable Keurig cups

K & J

Keurig cups are convenient, but they also create a ton of plastic waste. These Keurig-compatible plastic cups are an easy way to cut down on the amount of trash you create without cutting down on your caffeine. Additionally, you won't have to keep on buying K Cups, which means you'll be saving money and the environment.

K&J Reusable Filter Cups, $8.95 for a set of 4,; at Amazon

Low-flow shower head


Low-flow water fixtures can cut down your water consumption, which saves you money while also saving one of the Earth's resources. This shower head was designed with a lighter flow in mind, which means you'll be able to cut down on water usage without feeling like you're cutting down on your shower.

Speakman Low Flow Shower Head, $14.58; at Amazon

Bamboo safety razor


Instead of throwing away a disposable razor every time you shave, invest in an eco-friendly, reusable one. This unisex shaver isn't just sustainable, it's also sharp-looking, which means it would make a great gift for the holidays.

Zomchi Safety Razor, $16.99; at Amazon

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