The full Hurun Rich List came out yesterday, and contained plenty of surprises.
Seven out of this year’s top ten billionaires are new faces, reflecting the months of upheaval since the financial crisis struck.
My biggest sympathies (if you can be sympathetic for a Chinese billionaire) went to Peng Xiaofeng, the 33-year-old boss of LDK Solar and Shi Zhengrong, 45, the head of Suntech.
A year ago, and these two Chinese solar panel-makers were being touted as the forefront of the greentech movement, and proof that China can innovate environmentally-friendly technology along with the best of them.
Of course, most people in the industry knew that the success of the two men was down to the same market economics that have enriched factory owners across Southern China.
They didn’t succeed because of innovation – they succeeded because they could manufacture solar panels cheaper than anyone else. Nevertheless, there was a brief moment when it appeared as if solar power might be the next big thing.
This year, however, we saw the bubble pop. With dozens of companies churning out panels, the market was dramatically oversupplied. Prices are down 40pc on last year.
Governments were big supporters of the industry, but they ran out of money for green schemes when forced to bail out the banks. Spanish subsidies for solar were cut, and it looks like the success of the anti-solar Free Democrats party in Germany will see subsidies cut there too.
As a result, LDK Solar has now lost more than 75pc of its value, and Peng’s fortune has consequently diminished by $3.2 billion, dropping him from fourth place on the rich list to 155. Shi has fallen to 59th, after Suntech halved in value.
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