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First Solar partners with Zhenfa on its first Chinese commercial demonstration project

A First Solar installation in GermanyFirst Solar announced yesterday (Dec. 3) that it partnered with China’s Zhenfa New Energy Science & Technology Co., Ltd. on its first commercial demonstration project in the country. Under the agreement reached, First Solar will provide 2 megawatts of its thin-film CadTel PV modules to one of Zhenfa's approved solar projects in Xinjiang province. The project is slated for the first quarter of 2013.

While China is certainly the world leader in terms of production of silicon PV—drawing the ire of some manufacturers and the ITC, thin-film PV is just starting to take root in the country, making such demonstration projects more important. China is also among the locations First Solar is looking at as it builds out its strategy to work in markets without heavy project subsidization where solar can compete.

“China has the potential to become one of the largest, if not the largest, solar markets in the world and can consequently help drive down the cost of solar electricity significantly by helping the industry scale and invest in technology improvements,” said First Solar spokesperson Ted Meyer. “We see a clear and growing commitment to solar energy in China, both at the national and provincial level. For example, China’s recently released ‘China’s Energy Policy (2012)’ has set a target for China’s ‘installed generating capacity of solar energy to exceed 21GW by 2015’,” he said.

The demonstration project will help First Solar in those goals, as it shows what types of projects the company is interested in pursuing or supplying in China. “It is a ground-mount project, with a portion using trackers and a portion using fixed-tilt,” Meyer said. He explained that it’s representative of the type of ground-mount utility-scale projects the company wants to pursue there. “The government is placing increasing emphasis on utility-scale projects, which is our core business.”

While this project will be First Solar’s first commercial demonstration project there, it does have some smaller projects there. “We have a small demonstration project in Hebei province with Guohua Energy Investment, Co. Ltd. and a small rooftop facility built by BOE in Beijing.”

Already the company has signed a memorandum of understanding (MOU) for a much larger 2 gigawatt (GW) array in Ordos City. “We remain committed to the 2 GW MOU signed with Ordos City.  Our goal is to construct a world class, viable demonstration project in Ordos, and ultimately take it to the planned 2 GW AC project,” Meyer said. “We have secured the approval of the pre-feasibility study for the 30 MW AC first-phase demonstration project, and we are currently looking to secure final approval from the Chinese government. We are also beginning to work with Ordos officials on Phase 2 of the project.” The company formerly partnered with China Power International New Energy Holding Ltd. on the Ordos projects, but that MOU has expired, he said.

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