At a time when China has been criticized for producing massive amounts of pollution, especially in its coal-fired, electricity-generating plants, a little-known green energy company headquartered in Baoding, southwest of Beijing, named Yingli Green Energy Company, has emerged as one of the fastest-growing and greenest companies in the world.

Yingli makes solar panels. It started commercial production of photovoltaic cells in 2002 and in eight years has developed into a respected maker of price-competitive photovoltaic panels sold worldwide under the “Yingli Solar” brand.

From 2004 through 2009 Yingli’s shipments grew at a compound annual growth rate of 153 percent. How it has grown that fast is something of a throwback to old-style manufacturing.

Back at the beginning of the 20th century, Henry Ford established an end-to-end integrated production facility at his famous River Rouge plant. At one end there were mountains of iron ore and other raw materials. At the other end of the plant cars drove out the door. Everything happened in that miles-long combination steel mill and assembly plant.

In an era when increasing numbers of manufacturers are outsourcing production, Yingli has been following the same totally integrated approach that Ford took. Last December it began trial production of high-quality, solar-grade polysilicon, which serves as the raw material and starting point for its production process. With that facility Yingli became integrated end-to-end and one of the world’s largest photovoltaic manufacturers with annual production capacity of 600 MW.

“Not only are we the largest vertically integrated [solar panel] company in the world, we are also the only manufacturer with in-house polysilicon capability,” that company announced.

The integrated manufacturing, as in Henry Ford’s era, enables Yingli to ensure quality control, speed up the introduction of technology improvements, and lower manufacturing costs as unit volumes increase. The integration also cuts down on supply chain risks.

The lowered manufacturing costs distinguished the company last year, even compared to its Chinese competitors. Last year Yingli achieved an all-inclusive cost of $0.85 per watt at the end of the third quarter. That compares with the China industry average of $1.09 per watt.

An analyst at UBS called Yingli “[The] most efficient crystalline-based solar module producer globally.”

Yingli sells its photovoltaic modules throughout Europe, South Korea, China, and the United States. Europe accounts for about half its business. Here in the US, Yingli panels have been installed at Rutgers University, Kohl’s, and Walmart. Yingli solar panels amounting to a total of around one gigawatt of generating capacity have been installed worldwide.

Recently the company has boosted what it spends on branding. It became the first Chinese sponsor at the FIFA World Cup and the first renewable-energy sponsor at the Cup.

From 2004 through 2008, Yingli’s revenues grew at a compound annual growth rate of 188 percent. By the third quarter of 2009 operating income had risen 127 percent compared to the same quarter the year before. During a time of worldwide recession, Yingli’s third quarter shipments increased 80 percent compared to third quarter 2008.

Sales in 2009 reached $1.1 billion. Yingli’s market capitalization (NYSE:YGE) reached $1.34 billion.

Shares of Yingli (NYSE:YGE) closed down 2.15 percent (- $0.23) at $10.45.