As the U.S. debates whether clean energy can create jobs in this country, Chinese companies are taking action now.
China's ENN, which makes thin-film solar panels and develops solar farms, is teaming up with Duke Energy Generation Services to bid on contracts for utility-scale solar farms and large commercial solar projects in the U.S. Duke will bring its expertise in navigating through public hearings and the legal hurdles of getting large-scale projects off the ground along with technology for building them to the 50/50 partnership, while ENN will provide expertise for building solar farms and possibly solar panels, said a Duke spokesman. The various projects could employ panels from different vendors.
The deal marks the latest step in China's pursuit of the U.S. solar market. A number of Chinese PV manufacturers – Suntech, Upsolar, JA Solar, Grape Solar – already sell large numbers of panels in the U.S. and some are going to build panel manufacturing facilities in the U.S. Most of the time, however, these companies concentrate on selling panels. Suntech last year formed Gemini Solar Development with MMA Renewable Ventures to pursue power plants and even landed a deal with Austin Energy, but it's a small part of the overall Suntech business in the U.S.
Under the Duke-ENN alliance, ENN will become a more active participant in building large solar power plants and possibly managing them. Duke owns and operates 630 megawatts worth of wind farms all over the U.S. and will add 350 megawatts to its portfolio by the end of 2010. Duke became a wind developer 2.5 years ago. (The energy development business is a separate unit from Duke's utility business.)
ENN, a sprawling conglomerate that's been around for 20 years and employs 24,000 people, makes thin-film silicon solar panels made from equipment from Applied Materials. In recent weeks, Applied has complained that the U.S. doesn't do enough to support solar manufacturing in the states.
The deal came about in the lead up to the Clinton Global Initiative that took place in September. Chinese companies and government officials have been more publicly discussing the need to curb carbon emissions in China. That said, the Duke-ENN deal, however, does not involve pursuing any Chinese deals. It will pursue contracts in the U.S.
Nonetheless, one could see Chinese deals growing out of this alliance. Earlier this year, First Solar signed a deal to build a 2-gigawatt solar farm in China. As part of the deal, First Solar will share some of its expertise on building large solar farms with Chinese officials and companies.
Duke has worked with Chinese companies in the past. It signed a memorandum of understanding with China Huaneng Group in August. But the Huaneng alliance is a research collaboration. This is the first commercial relationship with a Chinese company, according to a company spokesman.