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Summer 2012 Blog - Fanglin Sun

Fanglin Sun is spending twelve weeks in Wuxi (Jiangsu Province), China working for Suntech, a leading solar energy company.

 

May 28, 2012

 
 
 
Ping Wu (right) and me at our workstations

My internship placement is in the APMEA (Asia Pacific, Middle East and Africa) marketing team at Suntech’s global headquarters in Wuxi, China. What has impressed me most about the headquarter building is that it was designed with 2,754 solar panels which provide 80% of the electricity used in the building. During the first week, I did research on Suntech by touring around the office buildings, and reading Suntech’s official blog and newspaper. In the coming weeks I will be working together with the other intern from the Cal Energy Corps, Ping Wu, on several marketing research and data analysis assignments.

 
 

Suntech was founded in 2001 by Dr. Shi Zhengrong, and it is the largest solar panel producer in the world. The global headquarters is located in the New High Technology District of Wuxi. On the first floor of the building, there is an exhibition of the development of Suntech and solar system technology. Ryan, one of my colleagues in the corporate marketing team, gave us an introduction to some background of Suntech and the solar panel manufacturing processes. In the exhibition area, I was able to touch the silicon sand and have a close look at the solar panels manufactured by different technologies. In the past, I had taken several courses related to solar energy; however, it was the first time for me to see silicon sand, rocks, ingots, wafers, and solar modules. With the explanation from Ryan, I learned the differences between the monocrystalline and the polycrystalline silicon based on their appearance, efficiency, and manufacturing costs. Ryan also introduced the Suntech Superpoly technology, which is a hybrid of monocrystalline and polycrystalline to increase the efficiency and reduce the cost of producing of solar cells.

Holding silicon sand

After gaining a better understanding of Suntech and solar energy technology, I began to work on projects with colleagues in the marketingteam, whichfocuses on expanding the solar market in the Asia Pacific, Middle East and Africa region. The main focus of my work is to do research on solar PV marketing in these areas. For example, I did research on the renewable energy association and the renewable energy news reports in major media outlets in the Philippines and Thailand. I found that there is a growing concern on developing solar energy in these Southeast Asian countries, from both the government and non-governmental organizations. Furthermore, aside from researching information on solar energy development in the Southeast Asian countries, I also analyzed the import and export data of solar products in China. Ping and I converted all the raw data into one worksheet that makes the data comparable and concise. This is the first time for Ping and I to conduct a comprehensive analysis of marketing data; thankfully, our colleagues here give us a lot of guidance and helpful suggestions.

 

 

 June 12, 2012

During week four, I began my research on global renewable energy policies as a part of a month long assignment. My research focused particularly on the APMEA regions (Asian Pacific, Middle East and Africa). The goal of this research is to find several strong arguments on why people should invest in solar PV. Ping, the other intern and I, are working together on this assignment. Through conducting my research for this assignment, I used several methods to collect evidence, and create arguments for solar energy. For example, I collected statistics from renewable energy reports released by the Renewable Energy Policy Network for the 21st Century, the International Energy Agency (IEA), and Solarbuzz, a leading PV magazine. I also read many magazines that write on solar related topics such as Photon, PV Magazine, and Ecogeneration. Through reading these magazines and monitoring news reports on renewable energy, I can learn about the latest policy changes and technology information in this field.

 
 
Discussing with my co-workers

Through conducting research on renewable energy development, I’m shocked by the speed at which solar technology has developed in the past decade and how solar PV has changed so many lives worldwide particularly in developing countries. What makes solar PV special is its flexibility that it can generate electricity in off-grid regions. Some rural populations are too far from urban areas where electricity from the grid is inaccessible. For example, from 2008, a project called Lighting a Billion Lives has been initiated in India. The aim of the project is to spread the use of solar powered lanterns in rural communities in India. Before the project, these communities had no access to electricity and they mainly relied on kerosene for lighting. By the end of 2011, this project was initiated in 1,486 un-electrified and poorly electrified villages across 21 states in Indian. Approximately 74,000 households have benefited from this project. These solar lanterns not only bring much convenience for people during the night but also help increase their income. This is true in the case that after dark, kids can still study, women can still cook, and people can still sell the products. I learned a lot about the applications of solar energy technology in developing countries during this week.

 

June 27, 2012

Factory Tour

On June 27 Holly Wu, the vice president of APMEA (Asia Pacific, Middle East and Africa) Marketing Department of Suntech led Ping (the other intern) and I to visit two factories in Suntech technology park. One of the factories is a solar cell manufacturing factory and the other is a solar module factory. This tour offered me a good opportunity to see how the background knowledge about solar PV we had learned in the past month be applied in practice.

Since the solar cell production lines have high sanitation requirements, we had to take many protection procedures before entering the factories. For example, each of us was dressed in a plastic protection cloth, a hat wrapping all hairs, a mask covering mouth, and a pair of shoes covers. Workers in the factory also dressed in special uniforms and even their shoes were specially designed with antibacterial functions. The solar cell manufacturing factory has long production lines which are highly mechanized, so the number of workers is much less than I expected. Since machines perform almost all the manufacture processes, the workers primary responsibilities are to monitor the production process through computers and collect wafers at the end of the production line.

Before the tour, I had learned the solar cell production processes from several Suntech training materials. Although these training slides included many photos and pictures of each process, it was the factory tour that gave me a full understanding of how each production step works. During the tour, I saw the whole production processes from texturing, phosphorus diffusion, plasma etching, anti-reflection coating by PECVD (Plasma-enhanced chemical vapor deposition) to contact formation, and to the final solar cells. A supervisor of the production lines told us that in order to improve the manufacturing processes, Suntech held the “Golden Points Competition” to collect worker innovative ideas on improving manufacturing efficiencies and reducing cost. On the wall of the factory, there were many pictures of winners of the competition, and there were also a short description of their golden points. These pictures are a means to inspire workers to be more creative during their daily working.

This factory tour was a very valuable experience which allows me to have a better understanding of the solar cell production processes. It also makes me become more interested in solar cell production technology, and want to learning more in this field.

 

July 6, 2012

Today, our colleges in the AMPEA Sales Department lead Ping and I on a tour of the test lab at Suntech. Suntech’s test lab is the biggest solar photovoltaic module test lab in China, with an area of 1400m2. The lab is capable of conducting more than 50 different kinds of tests according to and even beyond the international testing standards such as the IEC 61215/6170 and UL 1703 standard. Haidan Gong, a senior engineer in the testing lab, explained the complex testing procedures to us. What impressed me most is that Suntech pays a lot of attention to the quality of its products, and it does extended tests to guarantee high quality. For example, instead of doing three durability tests to three separate modules, Suntech does a combined cycle test, to perform the three sequential durability tests (200 thermal cycles, 10 humidity-freeze cycles and 1000h of damp heat test) on the same module. Although Suntech is faced with a very challenging situation since the slow down and price decline of the global PV market, Suntech always puts product quality at the top priorities of the company’s development. 

After visiting the test lab, our colleague, Xi Ping, who is a solution sales engineer in the AMPEA Sales Department at Suntech, lead us to visit an outdoor test station on the top of a building located in the Suntech technology park. Several comparison tests are made on different types of solar photovoltaic modules on the test station. One of the comparison test aims to evaluate the influences on module output efficiency caused by hotspots. Testers use an opaque band to cover part of a photovoltaic module to simulate the situation of forming a hotspot. All the test results can be monitored in real-time via the internet and testers can use this data to compare the output efficiency between the modules with hotspot and the controlled modules that don’t have hotspots. Besides Wuxi, Suntech also has two other outdoor test stations located in Xining, China and Phoenix, US. The total outdoor test area of the three test stations reaches 7,000m2.

Just after we visited the test lab, Ping and I got a new project to design a 20 minute webinar to introduce the quality and testing of Suntech solar PV modules for the company’s partners. This tour provides essential background knowledge to help us on this new project. In the following weeks, we’ll work with colleagues in the sales team to identify the characteristics of quality solar panels, and we’ll also interview colleagues in the testing lab to learn more about the testing procedures and quality control processes in Suntech.

 

July 26, 2012

During the tenth week of my internship in Suntech, Ping (the other intern from Cal Energy Corps) and I are working on designing a webinar which aims to introduce the high quality of Suntech’s photovoltaic modules to its partners. This is a very challenging project for us since we have little background knowledge on how to evaluate the quality of solar panels and how to create an effective webinar which can attract an audience. Fortunately, with the guidance from my colleagues in the APMEA Marketing Department and the strong support from different departments in Suntech, the webinar design is working smoothly and successfully.

Before we started doing the project, Ping and I had watched many webinars online to see various methods that people used to tell stories in their webinars. We found that webinar designers make a clear structure of their presentation and use visuals to help audience to understand their arguments. At the same time, we also did some research on the quality of solar photovoltaic modules and what Suntech did to maintain the high quality of its products. Furthermore, Ping and I had a meeting with Ben (the Channel Marketing Manager of APMEA Marketing Department) and Adam (the Channel Marketing Specialist of Suntech APMEA Marketing Department) to discuss the outline of the webinar. In the meeting, Ben and Adam gave us several good suggestions on how to narrow down the broad topic and focus on the characteristics of solar panels that our customers are most concerned with.

In addition to learn how to organize the contents of a webinar, this project also helps me to improve my communication and cooperation skills. For example, after having a big picture of the project, the most difficult part of the project was to collect information from different departments in Suntech. When I sent out emails with a long list questions to colleagues in different departments, I was a little worried that they may not have time to pay much attention to our questions since everyone was very busy at their jobs. Surprisingly, they replied quickly and shared many useful materials with us. For example, colleagues working in the testing lab sent us an introduction of testing procedures and several Suntech solar photovoltaic modules quality reports. In addition to communicate with colleagues through email, Ping and I also interviewed Jim Zhu, who is the vice president of Global Quality and Customer Service Department of Suntech. Mr. Zhu explained to us the characteristics of solar panels that consumers are most concerned about, and the common problems photovoltaic panels will be faced with in the natural environment. Moreover, he also talked about the strategy Suntech has taken to prevent or minimize these problems. After collecting all this information, Ping and I will work on combining and organizing all this information to design the webinar.

What impressed me most while doing this webinar design project is the strong support I have received from different departments. Through this project, I understand that it is the cooperation from every worker of Suntech that makes the company develop with a dramatic speed in the past ten years and become the top solar photovoltaic manufacture in the world.

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