Himin Solar Thermal, a leading solar energy product manufacturer

A Shandong province man, referred to as the "solar king" in international energy, is in the running for the 2010 CCTV Business Leader of the Year, the ninth year that the award has been given.

Huang Ming, the chairman of the Himin Solar Thermal Corp, joins 19 other candidates chosen by China’s national TV network. His company is a leading solar energy product manufacturer, both in China and the world.

Himin Solar Energy has a brand value of more than 5 billion yuan. Solar energy, however, was not where Huang started out. In fact he studied petroleum engineering.

But in his first class, a prominent professor told the class members, "The world’s petroleum reserves can only last for 50 years, and China’s will last even less time.

"You’re not creators or explorers of petroleum, you’re gravediggers."

The words really struck home. According to this man, even before Huang reaches 50, the petroleum business will be in its sunset years.

"What can a person possibly do that’s worthwhile in such a hopeless field?" Huang kept asking himself.

"I don’t want my daughter to grow up without any energy to use," Huang later told reporters.

Then, in 1987, Huang came across a book with the title "From solar energy to thermal energy", and it changed his life.

Huang, who was a researcher at the time, decided to get out of the lab and make his own way in the world of solar energy.

Now, 20 years after that professor’s remarks, Huang is the head of a new-energy giant.

When he saw the professor again recently, he said, "I failed to follow my major," to which the professor replied, "Yes, but you’re my best student."

Moving to solar valley

In 2000, Huang began to think that, with land becoming scarce in the big cities and skyscrapers leaving little space for sunshine, the solar energy industry would face difficult times.

And solar water heaters and other solar energy products would have to be moved to smaller cities or rural areas. But, even those places were slowly being taken over by tall buildings, so the solar energy situation was looking even tougher.

Huang thought that his group had to get into real estate to break this bottleneck and he decided to develop his own real estate business. There they could provide solar energy products in accordance with their own design.

Huang told reporters that his move to the real estate business was not for profit, but for a dream, which sounds a bit impractical.

In his own words: "I used to be considered a sort of Don Quixote of solar energy when we started our own solar-energy-powered real estate business and the ‘solar valley’. But, thanks to my desire to give a blue sky and white clouds to later generations, I didn’t give up."

Now that dream place -the solar valley in Dezhou, Shandong province – is a modern reality: a community with hospitals, schools, hotels and plants that are all powered by solar energy. And it is attracting officials and investors from China and abroad.

"In the past, we sold solar energy products to real estate developers and they kept asking about the cost and market value. They were afraid of getting in trouble," Huang explained.

"Now we put up our own buildings and have had good sales so far. And this success has attracted many developers."

When buildings, equipped with solar energy products are compared with ordinary ones, they are not all that expensive – at most. several hundreds of yuan more per square meter.

Intelligent consumers

Huang believes that products, even entire industries, need to get their ideas from intelligent consumers – those who can have an influence on others and their lifestyle.

These consumers, Huang noted, often don’t care much about the price, and are more sensitive to the technology and quality.

Huang explained that quality, or luxury, can be expressed in different ways. For example, a building equipped with the latest in solar energy developments could be considered a modern luxury trend.

"We use the most advanced environmentally friendly technology to replace luxurious but useless parts, and give the consumer a more reasonable price, Huang said.

"This is a new trend as well as a new fashion," he said, adding, "it’s an innovative idea, and I have to make the model in accordance with my own ideals – the solar valley model."

Huang said he hoped that more cities will copy the solar valley model over the next five years.

Some countries and regions like Japan, South Korea and Taiwan are cooperating with his company.