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First Solar, SunPower Expanding in Booming China Market


First Solar Inc. (FSLR) and SunPower Corp. (SPWR), the two largest U.S. photovoltaic manufacturers, are expanding in China’s booming solar market.

First Solar agreed to supply 2 megawatts of its thin-film solar panels for a power plant in western China, the Tempe, Arizona-based company’s first commercial demonstration project, according to a statement today.

SunPower agreed today to invest $15 million in a joint venture to build and install concentrating solar-power systems in Inner Mongolia and other regions of China. The San Jose, California-based company will own 25 percent of the venture and Tianjin Zhonghuan Semiconductor, Inner Mongolia Power Group and Hohhot Jinqiao City Development Co. will own the remainder.

The agreements may help the U.S. manufacturers boost sales in China, which is expected to become the largest solar market next year, said Sanjay Shrestha, an analyst at Lazard Capital Markets in New York. Chinese manufacturers dominate the global photovoltaic industry, making up eight of the top 10 panel companies by capacity last year, according to Bloomberg New Energy Finance. First Solar was the second-biggest supplier, followed by Canadian Solar Inc. (CSIQ), which is based in Ontario and has manufacturing operations in China.

“China has the potential to be a major market for solar and this gets them a foot in the door,” Shrestha said today in an interview. “You don’t want to ignore the Chinese market but it’s difficult to say whether there will be any profit opportunity.” He rates First Solar a buy and has the equivalent of a hold on SunPower.

China is expected to install at least 3,980 megawatts of solar panels next year, according to New Energy Finance, vaulting it past Germany and Italy, the top two markets this year. Suntech Power Holdings Co., based in China, is the biggest supplier.

First Solar rose 0.6 percent to $27.14 at 10:17 a.m. in New York and SunPower slid 0.1 percent to $4.58. France’s Total SA (FP) owns two thirds of SunPower.

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