Apple is taking its solar ambitions outside the U.S. for the first time, announcing a partnership with SunPower to build 40 megawatts of solar PV projects in China’s western Sichuan province.
Financial terms of the deal were not disclosed. But SunPower said in Tuesday’s announcement that the two projects are under construction now, with 2 megawatts already connected to the grid, and are set to be completed by the end of this year. The two 20-megawatt projects will be co-owned by Apple and Sichuan Shengtian New Energy Development Co., Ltd., SunPower's project development joint venture.
Apple has been stepping up its green power projects of late, at a scale that could put it in contention with Google for the title of top green energy-supporting high-tech firm. These include three projects in North Carolina to help green the energy consumption of its new data center, and earlier this year, an $850 million deal to purchase power from First Solar's 130-megawatt California Flats Solar Project under a 25-year power-purchase agreement with Pacific Gas and Electric. SunPower has worked with Apple on six U.S. projects totaling 90 megawatts in California, Nevada and North Carolina, according to Tuesday’s announcement.
While the newly announced China projects aren’t that big compared to these U.S. projects, “it's big in the way that these are non-domestic companies doing PV in China,” Jade Jones, solar analyst with GTM Research, noted. “Historically, China has been supplied by domestic manufacturers. SunPower penetrated China in 2014, but at a very small scale compared to China demand and how much other major suppliers were shipping.”
China has also seen some high-profile failures for ambitious projects led by U.S. companies. Last year, First Solar announced it was abandoning a 2,000-megawatt project in western China, after four years of trying and failing to agree on financial terms. Meanwhile, China’s domestic solar manufacturers are positioning to dominate the country’s solar growth in the same way they’ve become major player in international markets.
SunPower has targeted China as a key emerging market, with ambitions to develop up to 3 gigawatts of solar projects in joint venture with partners Tianjin Zhonghuan Semiconductor Co., Sichuan Development Holding Co., Leshan Electric Power Co., and Tianjin Tsinlien Investment Holding Co. Its U.S. rival SunEdison is also targeting China, through a joint venture with JIC Capital, to finance, develop, construct and own up to 1 gigawatt of utility-scale solar projects in China over the next three years.
The new Chinese projects will use SunPower's concentrating photovoltaic products, which use mirrors to focus sunlight on solar cells. It’s one of the few CPV products still available, after a raft of startups trying to bring the technology to market have failed to compete against cheap standard solar panels.