Green leap viable in less developed areas

Updated: 2011-04-26 17:59

By Wang Chao (

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Clean energy business can find opportunities not only in rich communities, but also in least developed areas, experts from Tsinghua University and Cornell University said.

They urged clean-tech companies to make the "green leap" to reach the under-tapped market.

"By taking this step, we can alleviate poverty, increase people's quality of life, and earn money," said Tong Yunhuan, director of Center for Green Leap Research of Tsinghua University, on the Tsinghua-Cornell 2011 International Conference. The theme of the conference is innovative strategies for sustainable enterprises.

"The prevalence of e-bikes and solar water heater in rural China gives good examples that the 'green leap' can work in China," he added.

According to Wu Zhenyi, president of Tsinghua Solar, during the last 10 years, solar water heater reached 1.45 trillion sq m in China.

"If every sq m thermal can reduce carbon by 0.3kg, China is cutting the carbon emission by 50 million tons every year," Wu said.

Stuart Hart, Samuel C. Johnson Chair in Sustainable global Enterprise, the Johnson School of Cornell University, said in many places, poor people are paying more money for poorer services.

"Too much attention have been given to relief of the 'base of the pyramid' (BoP), or the 4.5 billion people in the world who live under $3 a day, yet eventually failed for not being commercial viable. At the same time, clean energy companies are more business model focused, which end up in poor application in the real world," Hart said.

Hart said there is possibility that clean technology and BoP can converge. Currently, Tsinghua and Cornell are working with dozens of companies in the world to incubate businesses in selected areas, mostly in developing countries.

"We don't make it large-scale, or investing millions of dollars, we started very small. We have to be humble, since we don't really know what we will come out with, although we do have business knowledge and clean technology," Hart said.

When doing these pilots, groups need to find a community which is in need of the technology, then get started by trust-building, which takes months. It takes on average a year, to find out a viable business concept, and then takes another one year to test it out, "because there are things you cannot anticipate," Hart said.

"It is a three-to-four-year process to come to the right point. But it is not an outrageous time," Hart said, "In fact, if you think about R&D, it is actually a quick turn-out. When it reaches a critical mass, the business can scale out organically."

"Technology is not the most important thing. The critical thing is how to embed it into the business and a find a viable model. Then the community can benefit — from more jobs and income — while the business can also earn money."

"What really drives that battery technology is not the 5,000 batteries made for Chery Volt, but millions of batteries made for e-bikes," he said.


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