Xi’an: Shaanxi’s Global Leadership in Solar Research & Development

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This post is the third in a series by guest blogger Abby Poats. Abby Poats is a Research Associate based in Beijing with the Washington DC-based American Council On Renewable Energy (ACORE) US-China Program (USCP). She also teaches English at China Foreign Affairs University in Beijing through the Princeton in Asia (PiA) fellowship program. Her blog entries contain her personal reflections and do not reflect the views of ACORE USCP.

Xi'an: Shaanxi’s Global Leadership in Solar Research & Development

One of China’s staple travel destinations, Xi’an—the present-day capital of Shaanxi Province and one of the Four Great Ancient Capitals of China—is world-renowned for its 8,000-strong subterranean army of Terracotta Warriors. Each year, tens of millions of Chinese and foreign tourists make their pilgrimage to Xi’an to behold these imposing forces commissioned in 210 BCE by Qin Shi Huang, the fierce first emperor of China, to be entombed with him to help him maintain his imperial dominance in the afterlife.

Solar Research

Glossing over 3,100 years of rich, tumultuous history brings us to the present day, as Xi’an adds to its subterranean Terracotta forces a new set of warriors taking on the paramount task of driving innovation up and cost down in the solar photovoltaic (PV) industry. In order for this development to even be possible, however, the regional economic development strategies of the 1990s first had to catalyze capital investment in poorer regions that had not benefitted as much as cities in the east during the 1970s and 1980s.

Xi’an, like several other western cities, soon became home to strategic industrial development zones, which today host research, engineering and manufacturing facilities for the software, telecommunications, and aerospace industries. Today, Xi’an’s 40 universities and over 10,000 annual graduates provide Xi’an’s industrial zones with world-class research capacity.

Hosted by the Xi’an High-tech Industries Development Zone, U.S.-based Applied Materials, the world’s leading provider of solar PV equipment, opened the Applied Materials’ Solar Technology Center in October 2009. As the largest non-government solar energy research center in the world, the facility, according to Applied Materials CEO Mike Splinter, “represents a critical breakthrough for the photovoltaic industry and China” and the “industrialization of the global solar industry.”

The facility will focus on research, development and demonstration as well as testing and training for both crystalline silicon and thin film module manufacturing processes. Furthermore, the center will allow local technology suppliers to work with Applied Materials engineers on testing and enhancing the efficiency of their current materials and systems. Former capital of thirteen ancient dynasties, Xi’an is working today to distinguish itself as China’s capital of solar research and development. While the city marked the terminus of the Silk Road in the distant past, Xi’an seems poised to become a key origin of solar innovation in the near future.  by Abby Poats


Photo credit: The Perpetual Globetrotter and Tech On!

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