First Solar and China Guangdong Nuclear Solar Energy Development today announced that they signed a memorandum of understanding to go forward with phase one of a 2-gigawatt solar farm in Ordos, Mongolia. Phase one consists of only 30 megawatts. First Solar will contribute cadmium telluride solar panels as well as expertise in erecting large solar farms.

Construction was supposed to begin last year, but was delayed by several factors. Bureaucratic issues played a part in the delay, but you also likely have to think about economic policy. The Chinese national government and various provincial governments base their goals for domestic solar consumption on exports. If exports are low, local renewable portfolio standards are raised to soak up factory production. 2010 was an exceptional year for solar -- shipments grew 92 percent to 15 gigawatts according to GTM Research -- and Chinese companies were some of the principal beneficiaries. First Solar, a U.S. company, may have just got caught in the middle.

What is a U.S. solar maker doing in China, a country with plenty of solar manufacturers? Providing expertise. Building large-scale solar parks with solar thermal technology or PV panels is a complex process that is more evolved in the West. Think of it: there are no major solar thermal companies that have come out of China. Chinese institutions are not fond of intellectual property, but they do want to leverage expertise. Duke Energy has teamed up with solar panel maker ENN to build solar parks in China and the U.S. Many expect demand response experts to move to China -- Johnson Controls just got certified to work on building efficiency.

How long before the Western experts get edged out by homegrown experts? It's hard to say, but a lot of the marriages may not last a lifetime. Years ago, a Chinese PC distributor asked then-giant PC maker AST about partnering in the manufacturing process. Soon afterward, AST died. The distributor went on to become Lenovo.

Plutonic Power also announced it would buy 50 megawatts of First Solar panels for a plant in Ontario, another booming solar market. Samsung will try to make its dent in solar in that province.


--IKEA stopped selling incandescent bulbs in the U.S. Last year, the company said it would terminate sales in January and here we are. The retailer already sells LED bulbs and is expected to increase its efforts on LEDs. We heard that from Bridgelux the same day Bridgelux told us they want to move into residential lighting. (My dream job: making up names for IKEA products -- Snoovik, Taarli, etc.)

--Ice Energy, which makes thermal mass air conditioners, has announced a strategic relationship with Trane. Trane will make some of its equipment compatible with Ice Energy’s products. It’s an important step for channel acceptance. Like lighting and commercial contracting, HVAC is dominated by an old and somewhat insular distribution and sales channel. Without friends on the inside, it is tough to gain traction.

--IneosBio, which wants to produce ethanol AND electricity from vegetative waste, got a $75 million loan from the USDA to build a facility near Vero Beach (home of Major Healy) that can produce eight million gallons and six megawatts a year. Ineos only needs four megawatts to operate so it will export 2 megawatts to the grid.

The company combines biological and thermochemical processes, similar to Zeachem, Coskata and others. See a profile from last month here.

--Xtreme Power, which makes energy storage arrays for wind and solar farms, has won a fourth contract in Hawaii. This time, the company will build a 10-megawatt storage array for a 21-megawatt wind farm on Oahu.

The company’s secret sauce is the PowerCell, a fiberglass battery designed back in the 1990s in an effort by Corning, British Aerospace and Ford Aerospace. The battery was spun out into a company planning to develop it for California's erstwhile zero-emission vehicle market -- a plan that collapsed, along with General Motors plans for its EV1 electric car, when the state backed off its ZEV timeline. Xtreme was founded in 2004 with a focus on utility-scale storage.