First Solar, Inc. (Nasdaq: FSLR) signed a strategic agreement to collaborate with China Power International New Energy Holding Ltd (CPINE) on solar photovoltaic (PV) projects in China, the US and other international markets.
CPINE is a subsidiary of state-owned China Power New Energy Development Company Limited (0735.HK).
First Solar says the agreement will expand its commercial presence in China.
Under the terms of the agreement, First Solar and CPINE will initially explore collaboration on solar PV projects in China and identify project investment opportunities for CPINE in the U.S.
CPINE has a goal of developing 2 gigawatts (GW) of solar in China.
First Solar has a 2.4 GW solar development pipeline in North America, but is looking for new markets for solar panels as demand slows in Europe.
Subsidy cuts in Europe are partly to blame for a 14% decline in First Solar panel prices, the company recently announced. The company’s earnings fell 33% in 1Q11 compared to 1Q10.
In January, First Solar signed a memorandum of understanding with China Guangdong Nuclear Solar Energy Development Co. to build an enormous solar plant in northern China’s Inner Mongolia region.
First Solar says negotiations on that project are continuing, but a construction date has not been announced.
Signing a Chinese partnership is a risky proposition for First Solar, according to William Pentland who blogs for Forbes. He notes the growing concern over China’s "indigenous innovation" policies.
"Although First Solar has publicly denied being strong armed," Penland writes, "the company’s recent history in China has all the trappings of exactly the sort of IP-squeeze described by U.S. industry groups and intelligence sources."
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