China's richest man is dreaming big

Meet China's 'New Energy King'
Meet China's 'New Energy King'   

Chinese billionaire Li Hejun, who has nudged aside Alibaba founder Jack Ma to become China's richest man, insists that "money is just a by-product" of pursuing dreams.

"The purpose of earning a lot of money is to achieve great things – and to me great things involve benefiting and helping other people," chairman of world's biggest thin-film solar company Hanergy, told CNBC's "Managing Asia." And "I believe that clean energy and thin film solar can change the world."

Li, also known as the "new energy king" founded Hanergy, China's biggest privately-owned clean energy company, in 1994. Hanergy Holdings controls 73 percent of Hanergy Thin Film Power Group (HTFPG), which is listed on the Hong Kong Stock Exchange.

The shareholding is the foundation of Li's wealth and propelled him to the top spot on China's rich list: the stock surged 255 percent in 2014 and is up another 45.9 percent so far this year.

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The company has been in the news for its ambitious M&A deals. Most recently, Hanergy bought U.S.-based Alta Devices, in August last year.

"I want to acquire more! We can upgrade more technologies, not only with our domestic and overseas research centers, but more importantly" by buying "some more technology," he said. "In the next two years, we will focus on the Chinese market and we'll go overseas in two to three years' time."

Financing would not be an issue, he added. "Every year, we get $1 billion of net cash flow – and you know we are now profitable," Li said. Hanergy has been profitable every year since 2010.

In fact, Li is so upbeat about the potential of thin-film solar cells market that he even argues that prices need to fall. "The price has to drop. It hurts margins but the scale is getting bigger," he said.

"The biggest advantage of thin-film solar is the mobility. I could, for instance, put it in a cap or use it in my car", he said. While traditional solar panels can only be used in industrial settings, "we can do both."

The company is not without controversy, however. Hanergy was in the headlines in recent weeks after the Financial Times, in analyzing the firm's financial statements, found unconventional accounting practices. The FT alleged that the solar group only settled 35 percent of the contracts made with its listed subsidiary, HTFPG.

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Li broadly dismissed the allegations, maintaining there are "a lot of people who don't understand Hanergy or thin-film solar."

HTFPG last week issued a clarification to the Hong Kong Stock Exchange that its parent had paid up most of the committed purchases.

The stock price has remained immune to the developments. Since the clarification was released last Friday, the stock has rallied 13.6 percent

Reporting by Christine Tan | Written by Mia Tahara-Stubbs