Is Sharp Corp. Looking for European Solar Power Ventures?

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 |  Includes: EN, ENLAY, SHCAY
by: Ron Haruni

Japan’s Sharp Corp. (OTCPK:SHCAY) and Italy’s largest power company Enel SpA (EN), are planning to establish a joint venture by spring of fiscal ‘09 and invest more than $2.6 billion in setting up, mainly in southern Italy, a number of photovoltaic power plants. The project is designed to tap growing demand for cleaner energy despite a global economic slowdown.

The joint venture will develop a number of photovoltaic power plants with a total capacity of 189 MW by the end of 2012, and will utilize thin-film solar cells, which offer superior power generating efficiency in hot-climate regions. The two companies want to generate 160 megawatts of electricity - enough to power 40,000 households.

In a separate deal, Sharp will also collaborate with Enel (OTCPK:ENLAY) and an unidentified European manufacturing company to build a plant in Italy to produce thin-film solar cells, with an investment of at least 72 billion yen ($756 million). The plant will be operational with initial capacity of 480 megawatts. Subsequently, the capacity will be increased to 1 gigawatt.

The name of the company and the cost of the plant weren’t disclosed “since the agreement isn’t final yet,” Sharp Executive Vice President T. Hamano told reporters at a briefing in Tokyo. However, the three companies are currently working out the details of establishing the joint venture to manufacture thin-film solar cells in Italy, and plan to sign an agreement as early as next month.

The world’s second largest solar-battery maker and Italy’s largest utility company are also looking into expanding their business as independent power producers in the future to cover countries of the Mediterranean region other than Italy.

Sharp, which has an annual production capacity for solar cell panels of 710 megawatts, is currently intensifying its investments and readjusting its business model in an effort to regain market share from No.1 solar cell maker Q-Cells (OTCPK:QCLSF) of Germany, whose aggressive capital spending plans outstrip those of its rivals. Q-Cells has said it plans to raise capacity to 1,000 megawatts in 2009 and 2,500 megawatts in 2010. Sharp also aims at increasing its annual production capacity for solar cell panels at 6,000 megawatts as it actively works toward becoming a company providing total solutions based on solar cells.

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