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Autos

Hanergy debuts four solar-powered prototype vehicles

Chinese solar company rolls out vehicles that can travel 80 kilometres on a single charge of sunlight lasting five to six hours

PUBLISHED : Sunday, 03 July, 2016, 6:26pm
UPDATED : Sunday, 03 July, 2016, 10:45pm

Chinese solar company Hanergy Holding Group has unveiled four solar-powered cars, reflecting the company’s effort to diversity into the automotive industry as a way to expand the use of its thin-film photovoltaic technology.

“Cars powered by solar can be commercialised,” chairman Li Hejun said Saturday in Beijing at a ceremony to debut the vehicles including a sports car he drove in a live demonstration.

It was the first public appearance of Li since he resigned in May as chairman and executive director of Hanergy Thin Film Power Group, the group’s Hong Kong-listed unit whose shares have been suspended from trading since May last year amid a probe by securities authorities.

Once a high-flying Chinese solar firm, Hanergy Thin Film posted a loss of HK$12.2 billion last year, with a significant portion of the loss from asset impairments. Revenue dived 70.7 per cent as it failed to deliver new production lines to its parent Hanergy Holding.

Li has been under pressure amid questions about potential applications and the future of Hanergy’s thin-film photovoltaic technology.

“We have made huge investment in the thin-film technology over the past few years. Many people have laughed at me and my team saying that we are crazy. Today, it’s not a concept, it’s a reality that will change the future of energy consumption,” said Li, once the richest man in China.

“For more than a year, it was the most difficult time for us and many people have misunderstandings about Hanergy. But we have been insisting in what we believe in,” Li said, referring to the application of thin-film solar technology in cars.

With five to six hours of sunlight, the thin-film solar cells on the vehicles are able to generate eight to ten kilowatt-hours of power a day, which allows the solar cars to travel about 80 kilometres, the company said.

“We hope to make solar-powered cars affordable to every family,” Li said, without providing details on pricing or time frame for mass production.

Gao Weimin, vice president of Hanergy Holding, said the dual-junction solar cells’ conversion rate, which reflects energy efficiency, is now at 31.6 per cent.

“We target to further increase the conversion rate to 38 per cent in 2020 and 42 per cent in 2025. That will help bring down the costs and allow the solar cars to travel longer distances,” he said.

It is expected that the costs of thin-film solar cells can be reduced by more than 90 per cent when the solar cars start mass production, he added.

“The thin-film solar panels are light and flexible. And full solar power cars do not need to rely on charging facilities like traditional electric vehicles,” he said.

Zhang Zhiyong, an independent auto analyst in Beijing, said prices of solar-powered cars could be high as the investment required in the thin-film technology is huge.

“It’s still a long way to go until Hanergy can mass produce the solar cars. When the production is low, it’s unlikely that the company will be able to make the cars competitive against other new energy vehicles in terms of pricing,” Zhang said.

Solar-powered cars could become viable zero-emission vehicles in the future, but drivers are concerned about the maturity and safety of the thin-film photovoltaic technology, Zhang said.