Chinese Firm Enters U.S. Market to Build Solar Power Plants

In Hong Kong, China, the name GCL means solar energy. So it wasn’t surprising when GCL subsidiary, Poly Energy Holdings Ltd., a world-leading polysilicon and wafer supplier, announced the formation of a joint venture (jv) with Los Angeles solar star SolarReserve, a design/build solar energy firm, to build solar photovoltaic (PV) power plants in the United States.

The jv signals Chinese intentions to enter the U.S./EU solar market – an intention strengthened by U.S. banker Wells Fargo committing $100 million in financing for GCL’s solar projects.

The move is not surprising in that, while China relented on its decision to stop shipping rare earth minerals (like silicon) around the world on Nov. 14 to none other than Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, the fact remains that China – as the world’s largest rare earth minerals miner, providing 97 percent of supply – has a virtual stranglehold on the market, and what better way to exploit it than to join forces with U.S. and European solar firms?

GCL, which builds conventional power plants in China, as well as renewable plants like wind and solar, also has a San Francisco subsidiary, GCL Solar Energy, Inc., and sees expansion of the firm into new geographic markets as the only way to insure the company’s future success. Acquiring a 50-percent share of SolarReserve’s 1,100-megawatt pipeline (for an unknown amount) would certainly be one way to do that.

The solar PV plants are slated for the most desirable areas in the desert Southwest, in terms of utility-scale solar. SolarReserve, which also develops concentrating solar thermal plants (CSP) using molten-salt energy storage technologies, is not relinquishing the CSP portion of its operation.

It looks like a win-win for China and the U.S. After all, where best to invest the U.S. dollars China owns than back in the burgeoning American solar PV market?