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Solar Power Magnate’s Bold Bid for Ailing Carmaker

Erik Kirschbaum

A technician polishes a solar panel module in a assembly line of the Solarworld factory in Freiberg, Germany, in a Sept. 4, 2006 file photo. SolarWorld chief executive Frank Asbeck raised eyebrows by announcing plans to bid for the German plants of General Motors' Opel unit. (AP photo)

GERMANY - SolarWorld chief executive Frank Asbeck raised eyebrows by
announcing plans to bid for the German plants of General Motors' Opel

Here was a small 10-year-old company specialising in producing
photovoltaic systems with 2,000 employees and annual sales of 700
million euros preparing the stage for a seemingly audacious takeover of
a legendary 146-year-old German company with 25,000 employees and more
than 60 million cars sold since the first vehicle was made in 1899.

What does solar power have to do with the car industry? Not much at this point.

Yet after the initial laughter finally died down, Asbeck explained
the vision linking renewable energies to the car industry. The
49-year-old solar power baron told Reuters that he wanted to make Opel
the first "green" car company in Europe.

"Opel has truly modern policies on car models," said Asbeck, a
maverick in Germany who started the fast-growing company only a decade
ago. "It's got the potential to become a truly ‘green'
carmaker, switching over from the ‘automotive' sector to the 'sun-motive' or ‘electro-motive'.

"The public and the markets are demanding new products," he said.
"No one will be able to negate a 25-percent decline in sales with
green, electro cars or hybrids overnight. But the development is
extremely interesting. There will be a new cliental and new green
market demands that have to be met."

There have been rapid advances in energy storage technologies in
recent years. Some believe that millions of battery-driven cars could
be a major breakthrough for renewable energies - a vast depot for
storing wind and solar power.

While the supply of the wind and sun far exceeds humanity's needs it
doesn't necessarily match the time when people need it: the sun may not
be shining nor the wind blowing when we need to cook dinner or have a
shower - or drive cars. Soaring production of solar panel and wind
turbines has been now spurring a race to develop the winning energy
storage technologies which will drive the electric cars and appliances
of the future.

Asbeck's idea to meld cars and solar together sounds crazy, but his
audacious gamble for Opel has put the idea in the spotlight. Let's see
where it goes from here.

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