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Canadian Solar Inc – From Icy Paths to Solar Panels

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Foreward: As a leading retailer for solar products and kits, we’re proud to provide access to the industry’s top manufacturers. But with so many companies, there’s of course, the subtle, but key distinctions between companies, their products, and the people who make them. By shining light on these differences and sharing their stories, we’re aiming to provide a more clear picture to help in your decision making.

Canadian Solar Inc., at a Glance

Canadian Solar Inc. is one of the largest solar manufacturers in the world.

Their story combines global reach and world class financing, expressed through the hard work and humble beginnings of founder and CEO, Dr. Shawn Qu. They maintain their space as leaders in the industry by driving product innovation and in-house R&D; and in 13 years since their founding, they have elevated themselves as a leading company in the solar industry.

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From Icy Walkways to Sun-Powered Panels

Canadian Solar Inc. was founded in 2001 by Dr. Shawn Qu. Qu. As a serial academic/entrepreneur, he received his Bachelor of Science in applied physics from China’s most prestigious school, Tsinghua University. He later graduated with a Masters of Science in physics from the University of Manitoba and went onward to receive his Ph.D in material sciences from the University of Toronto.

In an insightful 2010 interview, Dr. Qu recalls the “cold, cold, Winnpeg winter,” as he walked from class to class on icy campus walkways. His story sets an interesting backdrop: The basic beginnings of what would ultimately become the world’s leading solar company.

Before founding Canadian Solar Inc., Dr. Qu worked at Ontario Power Generation as a research scientist, then moved into product engineering, business development, and strategy at Automation Tooling Systems, Inc.

Here, he was led into the solar industry with Photowatt International S.A. Eventually, he returned to his alma mater Tsinghua University as a visiting professor in 2011. He currently runs Canadian Solar Inc. as CEO and chairman of CSI’s board of directors –  alongside an esteemed lineup of accomplished professionals in corporate finance, law, and nanotechnologies.

Leading the Industry

Dr. Qu’s multi-discipline background reflects itself within the company’s products and services. They provide a huge range of solar applications (cells, modules, wafers, ingots, panels, etc.) across different verticals and scales (from consumer level to huge solar farm contracts). Their operations are spread across 13 countries worldwide and in more recent news, they were announced as the Nasdaq’s second-best performer with a 687% surge by Q4 of 2013 (hovering around $30/share).

As of 2014, their value has grown (once again) by an astounding ~25% to an average of $40 a share with market value tipping the scales at $2 billion+.

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Some Keys to Solar Success

  • In 2008, they established and qualified their own testing lab, compliant with the most stringent of international reliability standards.
  • In 2009 they opened an in-house research and development center in Suzhou, China.
  • The company’s R&D division employees ~400 scientists, engineers, and technicians with over 170 world patents on file.
  • In 2013 they made a strong shift in strategy to include selling full service power plants (which ultimately yielded their most profitable quarter in more than two years).

The Industry’s “One Stop Shop”

Why is Canadian Solar known as the world’s most all-encompassing solar company? They maintain their own R/D, internal quality testing, and do business in multiple channels including individual parts (ingot/wafer, solar cells, modules), solar farm development, and more recently, full-powerplant builds and sales.

They maintain their core values as a company with international scale by directly expanding their production reach.

Generally speaking, other solar companies maintain production and operations at a single source. While a portion of their manufacturing facilities are in China, they are also one of the world’s leading producers on Canadian soil.

“One big news peg this year has been the company’s plan to finally, actually start manufacturing in Canada, to take advantage of the Ontario Green Energy Act.” – Via PV Tech

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World Class Numbers

By the end of 2013, more than 41% of their third-quarter revenue came from developing solar farms, mainly in Canada and China. They ship about 327 megawatts of products in Canada alone.

To put things into perspective: That’s almost enough renewable energy to power 575,000 homes over the next 20 years (based on figures from “Project of the Year Award by Intersolar N.A”). To up the ante, in 2013, they shipped 1.75-1.77 gigawatts worldwide. Homes powered? An equivalent of almost three million.

Highly Decorated

Canadian Solar Inc. has shipped projects in every sector from education to private enterprise, sports entertainment to public projects, even automotive.

In their early days (2002), they were were qualified by Audi Volkwagen as a class A supplier to provide solar car battery chargers to VW’s new, pivotal plant in Mexico. They’ve gone on to win multiple solar farm contracts across the globe, namely in Germany, China, and North America.

End of the day, they’re one of the best companies in solar to work with, both in products and services. Some words from CEO/Founder Dr. Qu:

“Our success is being mainly driven by our total solutions business… We are making major progress in our business transformation from a module manufacturer into a one-stop shop and provider of solar power solutions.” – Dr. Qu

Author: Tim Wu

Tim Wut was once in pursuit of a paper-laden path career in bankruptcy law. He now writes as a freelancer for various publications to cover startups and business. He explores the inspiration that drives entrepreneurs and shares lessons learnedin the trenches. Writer by trade, storyteller at heart.

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