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Building A Billion-Dollar Solar Company: Canadian Solar CEO Shawn Qu (Part 1)

Posted on Friday, Jun 24th 2011

Dr. Shawn (Xiaohua) Qu is the founder, chairman, president and CEO of Canadian Solar. Prior to founding Canadian Solar in 2001, he worked at Matrix and Photowatt International as a research scientist, and director of silicon procurement, director of solar products, strategic planning and business development, and technical vice president (Asia Pacific) of Photowatt International S.A. Prior to Photowatt, he was a research scientist at Ontario Power Generation Corp. (formerly Ontario Hydro), where he worked in the development of Sphere Solar technology. Physical Review. Dr. Qu received a Ph.D. in material science from the University of Toronto in 1995, a M.Sc. in physics from the University of Manitoba in 1990 and a B.Sc. in applied physics from Singh University (Beijing, China) in 1986.

Sramana: Shawn, tell me some of your personal story. What were the factors in your background that led you to take the path that led you to where you are today?

Shawn Qu: I was born in China near Beijing. Both of my parents are university professors and taught mathematics. I grew up in Beijing. I was born in 1960, and I grew up in the 1970s when China was still in the midst of the Cultural Revolution. University professors were still paid the same wages as factory workers. On the other hand, Beijing and the university was a quiet environment that allowed me to study. Because of that, I would say that I grew up in a common family in China that had a strong focus on education.

I graduated from the same university my parents taught at, Singh University, with a degree in physics in 1986. In 1987 I went to Canada. I was one of the first Chinese students allowed to go out and study. China did not allow students to go out and study on their own in 1995. Before that, the only students who were able to leave were state-sponsored students. After 1995, they allowed anyone to go out on their own.

I did my masters and doctoral degrees. I received my PhD in semiconductor materials from the University of Toronto in 1995. In 1996, I started my career with Ontario Hydro, which is now Ontario Power Generation. My research was on photovoltaic electricity. At that time Canada was starting to implement certain climate change strategies. I was fortunate to become one of the first to work on the climate strategies in Canada. I eventually started Canadian Solar in 2001.

Sramana: What was going on around you? Over the past 10 years people have become more aware of green energy. What was the environment like in 2001?

Shawn Qu: The awareness of solar was very low. The total world wide solar module production was probably around 20 megawatts. Last year, people installed around 18 gigawatts of solar power generation systems. Back then it was a very small industry. I called it an industry in a closet. When I started Canadian Solar the dream was not to change the lifestyle of ordinary Canadians, the dream was to start a small company and make solar products that could impact people’s lives while doing something good for the environment.

This segment is part 1 in the series : Building A Billion-Dollar Solar Company: Canadian Solar CEO Shawn Qu
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