Day 3. Shenzhen. Monday 22nd Oct.
< Back to China 2012 Index Page
Woke at at 7.00am Shenzhen time and went for a 25 minute run in Shenzhen away from shopping areas. It was polluted and huge - daunting but welcoming, with lots of schoolkids hurrying to massive concrete school buildings called things like "Shenzhen District Number Two Experimental School".
Ate breakfast at a local noodle bar. In typical Asian style it was beef and had a Pepsi (plus some HORRIBLE looking soup that I left alone). The cost was about AUD$2.50.
The representative from the first company of the day texted, asking if 10.30am would suit to visit. I said that 9am would be better to allow us to visit her company's factory and get back to meet the next company at 1.30pm. "Oh no sorry, my factory is four hours drive from Shenzhen." she texted back. "Can you come visit another day before you leave China?" Oh. No. Anyway after some more texts we decided to meet up at 10.30am in Shenzhen and perhaps I'd visit the factory another time based on that.
The meeting... was difficult. She knocked on my hotel door at exactly 10.30 and the meeting was apparently in my suite. No problem, at it was big and had a lounge, dining, and office area. She was very nice but had quite poor spoken English. We spent almost two hours going around in circles of me trying to tell her what I wanted. In the end her company (with about 200 employees) was really more interested in selling panels - which I don't need as I already have a supplier that I am very happy with. She couldn't understand why I'd want batteries on a grid-connected system and I almost had to give up trying to explain the need for Hybrid systems. In her opinion you either had the grid or you had batteries, but never both. She finally understood at about 12.30, and would look into what she could do. But then started asking from the start again. This wasn't quite working.
We then went to lunch (which she paid - the companies will ALWAYS pay and the etiquette is to protest a few times and then allow the company to pay). Lunch was another VERY hot plate of various things. Some quite okay, some I avoided even looking at let alone eating. Wow that chicken soup will haunt me for years to come!
Also, I gave her a little wooden Boomerang with a hand painted echidna on it as a gift and told her it was my gift to her company. The wood was to symbolize a (hopefully) growing business relationship, while the boomerang metaphor itself was that if thrown properly, it will come back again and again. She thought that was very nice, but was concerned about the animal. What was it? Why was it on there? What did the animal mean? I explained what an echidna was, and showed her some photos (thanks Google Images for working in China!). So that was fine - and echidna. But the meaning of using that particular animal? She sat across the table waiting. Um.. It was a native animal that was common where I was from. "But why that animal? What does it mean?" she pressed. "Er, sorry there's no meaning to the animal, it just comes from where I come from - and if you see one you can think of me." I replied. "Ooo-kay", she said a tiny bit warily. In the end it really was all smiles and all good.
Then it was 1:20pm and the next company rang. They were already at my hotel waiting to pick me up. I said a goodbye to my "morning" company representative in totally mangled Mandarin and headed off.
The "afternoon" company was in a word, amazing. But first some bad news. The representative had a car and driver, and asked me to jump in as we had a long drive to their factory in Haizhou. Two hours away... Damn. I raced up to my room to get some things (while forgetting to get a boomerang!) and we headed off. Now some good news. The company representative spoke and understood English perfectly. And what's more, while her company didn't currently produce what we wanted, she almost immediately understood why I would want a system like a grid/battery solar hybrid and felt it would be very good for her company of about 7,000 employees to develop. Great! The trip itself was much better than I expected. I got to see some breathtaking sights (both good and bad) on the winding freeways through Gaungdong. And by the halfway point we'd entirely discussed what was needed and how it could be done. The conversation turned to some quite amazing chit-chat. She had a Master's degree in horticulture and started working with her solar company in 2012 because she wanted to get out to see the World a little. And because of her English skills and quite obvious high education has progressed up the company ladder quickly. By the way the driver only spoke very broken English and didn't speak at all during the trip.
Haizhou is hardly even on my map and was every bit the polluted Chinese industrial city that you read about. Very dusty & thick pollution with seemingly out-of-control traffic of ALL kinds driving on all parts of the road. Also, like Shenzhen its growth is so rapid that it can hardly keep up. Hundreds of high-rise apartment blocks and dozens (if not hundreds) more being built.
The solar company sat as a gated and guarded complex almost like a large embassy in what felt like an endless maze of industrial streets. Its brightly painted but aging six story buildings covered the grounds with grassed courtyards in between. The entire 7,000 employees worked in this one site and what's more almost all of them LIVED there too, in an area known as the "Employee town". My representative and the driver live here as does the driver's wife (who also works here) and their 5 month-old daughter. The company also had a school which doubled as free secondary education for all employees that were interested, as well as playgrounds and sporting areas.
Like I said it WAS aging, but an incredible setup nonetheless. I asked my rep and driver what it's like to work and live here. They both said that it was better, cleaner, and cheaper than living outside and said that was one of the main reasons people worked for the company.
The company's main product line was not actually solar, it battery re-chargers. They supply to brands such as Bosch their cordless power tool chargers, but the company also makes other things like electric car charging stations, LED light bulbs, and what I was there to see, solar inverters & controllers (no panels here).
I had a brief and easy meeting with the head of product development, and some others with varying English skills. Easy because my direct representative explained our travel conversation and they all nodded in agreement that what I was proposing was something they wanted and needed to do. They seemed genuinely grateful to be given an "objective" look into the Australian market complete with rebates, politics, etc.
The head also "got it" from a technical perspective and said it would be a simple redevelopment of an existing off-grid product rather than a whole new product. He asked when needed them by. I said it would be good to see something by the first quarter of next year. He scoffed and said he'd have an approved "all in one box" system for us ready to ship from China within a month. Wow! By the way, the company had a fully independent testing and accreditation facility within their complex. This allowed them to have products tested/accredited almost simultaneously to European standards while being developed. Australian standards however would have to come later but that was not an issue.
We then did a detailed tour of the complex. Wow again! From the surgical computer circuit-board room, to the vast floors of general production it really was quite amazing. The only thing that seemed to be an issue was the lift which refused to work. We took the stairs...
The tour ended with the company's own solar systems. A fully working 2kW off-grid demo system and an in-construction 1.3MW system that will eventually run the whole complex during daylight hours. We then went back to the showroom to confirm exactly what it was that they would be developing. A moveable box containing the inverter, controller, and batteries - in both 3kW (with 10kWh of storage) and 5kW (with 15kWh of storage) versions. At a price to meet the Australian market.
The whole group of us then went out for dinner at a local Cantonese restaurant. This was very specifically Cantonese which is a far more raw/fresh version of the Chinese food than I was used to eating in Australia. It was really delicious and chilli was an optional-extra which was nice! I was a little surprised that none of them wanted to drink any alcohol. I'd been told that alcohol was a big part of business meals. In the end the head and I shared a single beer. But drinking was clearly NOT part of their lifestyle. The driver then drove me back to my hotel in Shenzhen in the hazy darkness, getting me back at 9.30pm before turning back to Haizhou for home.
All up I really like this company and am very keen to see what they will come up with, and hope they can do it for a price that's feasible in the Australian market. I stressed to them that this was the key. Even with energy storage we (meaning the whole Australian solar industry) HAD to keep 5kW systems to no more than $18k as a fully installed cost if we wanted to keep installing in the same volume as we had been used to - which would obviously translate into purchasing equipment from companies such as this. I think they can.
By the way as I said earlier I forgot to put the Boomerang in! So gave it to the the driver when he dropped me off. I received a text the next morning from my company representative saying how much the company loved the gift.
The first company on the other hand? We'll keep in touch, and she knows what's required (I think). To be honest I don't think this company will be the one I do business with, but I do hope our meeting helped her understand the need for hybrid systems.
Still - today was a great start!
Bed at 11.00pm.
Day 4. Shenzhen. Tuesday 23rd Oct. >>