Apple's (NASDAQ:AAPL) push into renewable energy has resulted in hundreds of millions of dollars of investment here in the U.S., and now it's moving that commitment overseas.
In a deal announced this morning, Apple and SunPower (NASDAQ:SPWR) are partnering to build and own two new 20 MW power plants in China that are already beginning to provide clean electricity to the grid. This continues a long-term partnership between the two companies that has resulted in 90 MW of projects in the U.S. and could be a model for the future in China.
Apple's latest solar deal
Today's 40 MW deal will cover two projects, located in ABA Tibetan and Qiang Autonomous Prefectures in the Sichuan Province of China. They will be built with SunPower's C7 solar concentrators and a "light-on-land" design that allows for the land to serve as a pasture for animals as well as a power plant.
The cells will be produced at SunPower's plant in the Philippines and assembled into cell packages for C7. Those kits will then be sold to a joint venture in China that will assemble the packages into a full system with mirrors and electronics, which will then be sold to SunPower's developer Sichuan Shengtian Net Energy Development Co,. Ltd., who will complete the project and co-own it with Apple.
At the end of the day, it gives SunPower revenue now and a small piece of this project's long-term value creation. For Apple, it provides clean energy for its Chinese operations and contractors, part of its goal of making its operations greener.
A big win for SunPower
SunPower has been one of Apple's biggest solar partners, but earlier this year, it was overshadowed by a $848 million deal Apple signed with First Solar (Nasdaq: FSLR) to provide electricity from 130 MW of solar power projects. But this win shows that SunPower is still in the running for these projects and has some momentum in China.
One of the most audacious moves SunPower has made in the last year is its China partnerships and betting on concentrated solar energy in the region. The first joint venture it has will build 300 MW of concentrated solar assembly capacity, 150 MW of which is already in operation.
The second venture is a project development business with four partners that aims to build 3 GW of solar plants in the next five years. If that's the case, this Apple deal is just the tip of the iceberg.
SunPower feels China is a market it has to compete in, and C7 is the product it is choosing to push in the region. With Apple signed up and another 120 MW of projects built or under construction, there might be enough momentum in China for investors to start believing in its potential.
Corporate America is investing big in solar
Apple is just one of many U.S. companies expanding their solar presence, and in 2015, I think that momentum will continue. With the industry's most efficient panels and a growing suite of intelligent tools to help corporations lower costs, I think this will be a big market for SunPower.
Having Apple as a major customer just shows how valuable the best technology is, and that advantage is now making its way to China, which could be SunPower's biggest market in a few years' time.