Tuesday, June 26, 2007

Dr Shi takes a shine to the PM

Florence Chong
June 26, 2007

SHI Zhengrong - dubbed China's sunshine boy by the international press - has pressured Prime Minister John Howard to join his push to pursue renewable energy in preference to nuclear power.

The visiting Australian-passport-holding billionaire told The Australian: "I said to the Prime Minister, as far as I understand, it will take 10 years to plan for nuclear power.

"In reality, solar power will definitely be very competitive with conventional technology in 10 years' time. There is no need to go to nuclear power."

Dr Shi is the founder of the Nasdaq-listed Suntech Power, capitalised at $US5.5 billion ($6.5 billion).

In 2005, he raised $US455 million to fund expansion and research and development. He owns 40 per cent of the shares himself.

Over dinner in Canberra last Friday, Dr Shi explained to Mr Howard that conventional energy sources such as oil should be kept for needs such as aviation.

"I urge Australia to promote renewable energy, such as solar energy. Australian sunshine is an asset - you have to use it," he said.

According to Dr Shi, Mr Howard agreed, but said Australia lacked the ability to use solar energy for baseload power, which is why his government was looking at nuclear power.

Dr Shi said a big percentage of Australia's electricity supplies could come from solar energy, so "in my opinion there is no need for a big baseload".

Dr Shi, who came to Australia as a student when he was 19, was part of a delegation from Wuxi, a city near Shanghai, visiting Australia to recruit 300 young talents in a range of disciplines.
The former PhD student of University of NSW maintains close links with its research department, particularly his mentor Professor Martin Green, a world leader in photovoltaic solar cells.

The efficiency of solar technology is improving, he said, but he agreed that, depending on the location, it still cost two-to-five-times that of conventional energy.

Dr Shi said the cost of silicon was the reason solar energy remained expensive.

However, with plenty of money going into setting up additional silicon manufacturing capacity, he expected the silicon price to drop from 2009 onwards, when the extra plants went into production.