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UnThink Solar
a div of Impress Labs
811 Sansome St
San Francisco, CA 94111
United States

No. of Employees: 33
Phone: 415-395-0941

Solar Fred in Shanghai - First Impressions

On the 14-hour plane ride over here, I'm sitting next to a 20-year old Chinese business major studying at a university in the States. He speaks English well enough, and I ask him about solar energy in China. What does he think of it?

Now, he is not a solar professional, but the equivalent of the "man on the street," and only one voice, so take this in context, but his perception of solar-in-general is very close to the American perception of Chinese solar panels — that is, he thinks they are cheap, and have poor quality.

Perhaps this is a reason I'm being invited to China by Trina. In fact, it's reasonable to assume that this is the primary reason for inviting me, to break these stereotypes of cheap, low quality Chinese manufacturing that seems to persist everywhere, including its own country.

I'm writing on an iPad 2 and he carries an iPhone 4, and I point out that Apple manufactures most of its products in China and they are of very high quality — and expensive, even in China. He agrees. Like Americans, he loves everything Apple does.

Would that there will one day be such worldwide enthusiasm for a solar panel brand. So far, there is not a single module manufacturer that comes even close, regardless of country of origin. PV manufacturers will have to invest in more aggressive and creative marketing to make that happen.


We've landed exactly on time, at 5:35 pm Shanghai time. Walking down the hall with my new Chinese friend, there are the usual billboard advertisements welcoming us in English and Chinese. One that is repeated down the long hallway is Hanwha Solar One, formerly Solar Fun.

Last year's name change was meant to bring synergy to the company, whose major owner is Hanwha Chemical company. I'm glad to see solar companies spending branding money, and yet, I think the name change is short sighted for the American marketplace. A high-level solar CEO that i know personally sent me a disdainful "ha-ha-ha-ha" after he read last year's press release, trumpeting that the name change would strengthen the global brand.

"Solar Fun" was never a strong brand name or brand concept to me, but Hanwha Solar One is, in my non-humble marketing opinion, a step backward for the American audience, which, as mentioned above, are already suspicious of Chinese solar manufacturing. But again, I'm glad to see that the company is advertising alongside Chinese investment banks.... that I've never heard of either. Brand misery loves company.


Leaving the airport in a Taxi ride, I'm looking forward to seeing a sea of buildings with solar hot water panels. I see one building with a set of evacuated tubes... and that's it. (However, on the two-hour drive to Changzhou, the freeway is lined with new construction and evacuated tube solar thermal. More about that in my next post.)

Throughout my 20-minute drive from the airport to the Hyatt Hotel in the Bund section of town, I don't see a single solar PV panel on the thousands of rooftops, not on sky scrapers or low scrapers or the few single-family homes.

China may be the default leader in solar PV manufacturing capacity, but like America, it has a huge untapped market opportunity at home, as well as for the rest of the world.

Tomorrow, follow me on my shuttle bus trip to Changzhou, where Trina is hosting me and about 30 other world solar industry reporters for a factory and HQ tour the following day.

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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