Hanergy announces solar-powered car plans

Hanergy Holding – China’s aspirant thin-film solar firm – has announced this week that it is to develop and sell five different types of solar-powered car in October.

The company, whose chairman Li Hejun is one of the world’s richest men, confirmed in a post on its website that it has partnered with three foreign companies and two domestic firms to develop the vehicles as Hanergy looks to enter a "market with huge potential".

In April 2014 Hanergy partnered with electric vehicle (EV) pioneers Tesla to build an EV charging network in China, completing solar carports in Beijing and Shanghai using the company’s MiaSole CIGS high-efficiency modules.

At the time, Hanergy Global Solar Power and Application Group vice president Yhang Qingliang told the press that the company is "exploring ways to utilize its thin-film PV technology to provide solutions to the automobile industry", adding that it has been working with multiple partners to integrate solar into cars and other solar-automobile applications.

Current details are sketchy, but according to Hanergy’s web post the new vehicles will have a range of 100 km after four hours charge. The cars will each have a 6qm thin-film solar array embedded into their bodies, the statement said.

Hanergy’s business practices have been examined thoroughly in recent weeks by the Financial Times newspaper, which queried its rapid growth and investigated what it termed “unconventional practices” within the Thin Film Power division of the company.

The Chinese company has proven adept at grabbing headlines since its expansion into the solar PV industry in 2009, and this latest announcement could prove an interesting sideways step into the growing market for alternative fuel vehicles.

Figures from the China Machinery Industry Federation reveal that the country produced 78,499 alternative-fuel vehicles in 2014 – three-and-a-half times the number produced in 2013. Of that total, 48,605 were electric cars, and demand for cleaner transport is soaring across the country as the government grapples with serious smog and air pollution issues.

Despite Hanergy’s own involvement in the development of EV charging stations, the company hopes that cars embedded with solar panels will need fewer stops to recharge, thus leapfrogging a current hurdle in the advancement of EVs in the country.

The success of such a scheme hinges on the right type of technology, which may partly explain Hanergy’s decision in August to acquire Californian high-efficiency thin-film developer Alta Devices Inc.