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UnThink Solar
a div of Impress Labs
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Solar Fred in China - The Road to Changzhou


A group of early arrivers have gathered at the Hyatt for a shuttle bus to Trina's headquarters in the city of Changzhou. Aside from the Trina people and around 7 other international reporters, there is a local American who married a Shanghai native, and we ask him questions as we drive out of town.

As we plow through the city traffic towards the highway, he informs us that the skyscrapers surrounding us have all been built since the 1990's.

I'm stunned. I grew up in New York, and it took 100 years to create that skyline and creative architecture. I knew that Shanghai was a rich, bustling business center, but I had no idea that these tall, magnificent, modern, steel and glass office towers and hotels were all built in the last 20 years. They are building more and more...and more. (Note: due to my taking my iPad instead of my lapt top, photos are not easy to post. I will do a photo blog post after I get back to the U.S. and link to the relevant previous posts.)

Down the highway, our shuttle bus driver honks at anything in the way, and that's fairly often, as drivers here tend to pass on both right and left, straddle two lanes, and aggressively weave through slower moving traffic. There are speed limits and driving laws here, but they appear to be either a polite suggestion or just rarely enforced. Given the number of slower moving trucks we pass on the highway, the lax enforcement may be due to sheer volume. Though our bus driver is fast (and a relatively safe driver), he is no match for the Porches, Audis, and other high end luxury cars that impatiently honk at our shuttle bus. At least, we're staying between the white lines.

Like the Shanghai buildings, the freeway we're on was built quickly and recently. Our ride is extremely smooth and pothole free, but according to a television news report I see the next day, concrete chunks are already falling off overpasses due to defects and apparent construction shortcuts.

More impressive than the smooth ride is the constant stream of 30 to 40 story apartment towers and multi-building complexes. Many are brand new or under construction and line the highway for much of the two hours to Changzhou. Honestly, I keep waiting for a long stretch of farmland, but the only crops the Chinese are growing off this highway seem to be apartment buildings. This also means that there are people who are working in factories and other facilities behind all of these apartment buildings and will fill them one day. We see an occasional flat piece of undeveloped land, and I'm assured by the natives there are many agricultural farms out of view. However, the fact remains that I never notice a single family home or residential subdivision on the entire trip. That doesn't mean they don't exist, but they are not viewable from this freeway, as they might be on California's I-5 Freeway.

The other thing that I see are solar hot water collectors. Many older (10 years?) apartment buildings have evacuated tube systems on their roofs. Strangely, many buildings have very few collectors, given the building's size, and the collectors are distributed randomly across the roofs. These are very large buildings, remember, so it appears that a few of the top floor tenants have either legally or illegally installed some simple open loop or drain back systems for their personal use. I see this pattern over and over again, all the way to Changzhou. China is supposed to be the leader in solar hot water installations, so I'm sure that there are many more installations beyond the view of the freeway, but I now wonder how these systems are bought and utilized--by residents or by building owners?

Finally, we arrive in Changzhou (see picture from my hotel room.) There are fewer tall buildings than in Shanghai, but it ain't flat. Our 5 star hotel where Trina is hosting us for the night has 31 floors, and there are other hotels, office towers, and apartment complexes aggregated in the same area. Beyond that, the city view from my 23rd floor room reveals showroom malls, business parks and factory complexes. One of these complexes belongs to Trina, and we will see it up close and personal the following day.

So far, I haven't seen a single PV panel on a building, though I've seen some that are on light polls. More about this low solar PV visibility in a future post.

All of the reporters have arrived by 8 pm, and Trina feasts us with gourmet Chinese food. Platter after platter is brought before us and shared family style, along with wine and champagne. Over dinner, the reporters and Trina reps get to know each other, discuss the world PV markets. The evening ends around 11pm and we turn in for the next day's factory tour. Enough entertainment and how-do-you-do. Tomorrow, we will see the "the power behind the panel."

Until then, Unthink Solar.

Tor Valenza a.k.a. “Solar Fred” advises solar companies on marketing, communications, and public relations. Contact him through UnThink Solar or follow him on Twitter @SolarFred.

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