Top 5 Richest Tycoons in Renewable Energy

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Not so many years ago the idea of a renewable energy CEO raking in billions, joining the ranks of oil barons, publishing tycoons, banking scions and other captains of industry would have seemed unlikely. The stereotype of the Birkenstock-clad hippie with dreams of a world powered by solar energy seemed to belong to the Age of Aquarius, not the dawn of the 21st century. This seemed especially so after the fall of communism ushered in a new era of capitalism and greed, all fueled to some extent by oil and gas, symbolized by the Bush years in the White House with their ties to American oil wealth, and the rise of the Russian energy oligarchs.

With the bull market in oil that followed the financial crisis in 2008, however, solar energy and to a lesser extent, wind, began to look more interesting to countries wanting to diversify away from expensive fossil fuels. The environmental movement and buy-in by governments that created incentives for utilities to use renewables, have also been factors in solar's ascent.

The increased demand for solar particularly in the United States and the Asia-Pacific region created a boon for makers of solar panels. Within a short time, the stock prices of those companies rose, and with them, the compensation paid to their top executives.

The growth of the solar industry is truly astounding, particularly in China, the world's solar leader. Between 2011 and 2012 the Chinese solar market grew by 500 percent. According to a 2014reportby Frost & Sullivan, a consulting firm, the global solar market earned revenues of nearly $60 billion in 2013. The firm estimates that by 2020 it will double to $137.2 billion.

With all this growth, somebody was obviously going to get rich, and it didn't take long forOilprice.comto identify some of the biggest beneficiaries of the push toward renewables. The following are five of the world's most successful renewable energy business leaders and their net worth.

1. Li Hejun, Chairman, Hanenergy Holdings. $31.5 billion. After graduating as a mechanical engineer in 1988, Li Hejun borrowed RMB50,000 ($8,264) from a professor to start his own business. After several attempts at new ventures, including bottled water, electronic parts, mining and real estate, in 1994 he began investing in clean energy projects, according to the 2014 book China's Tycoons. Starting with a hydroelectric dam in his home province of Guandong, Li built six more dams in Yunnan, then expanded into wind farms and solar power. His company Hanenergy Holdings bought three Western, thin-film solar businesses in 2013 and a fourth, Alta Devices, in 2014. Li, who is China's richest man, added $3 billion to his wealth in March after Hanenergy's stock rose 36 percent in two days, according toForbes.

2. Elon Musk, Founder/CEO, Space Exploration Technologies Corp., Tesla Motors . $12.2 billion. South African-born Elon Musk co-founded PayPal and was the company's chair and CEO before moving on to Tesla, the American manufacturer of high-end electric cars. In 2008 Tesla released the Roadster, a two-seat sports car, and a year later, the Tesla Model S, a stylish four-door sedan. But since Musk didn't yet have a factory, he sought one in Japan. As