China wins a deal for one of the world’s biggest solar power plants, and it’s in the US

China’s ground game.
China’s ground game.
Image: Trina Solar
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In another sign of the resurgent Chinese solar industry, Trina Solar said today it will supply 1.1 million photovoltaic panels for a 250-megawatt (MW) power plant to be built in the Nevada desert. It will not only be one of the world’s largest photovoltaic power stations, but also the biggest in the US to use Chinese-made solar panels.

While Chinese companies have grabbed a significant chunk of the US residential market, utilities and developers of big solar power plants have favored American manufacturers like First Solar and SunPower.

That’s changing. In November, another Chinese solar manufacturer, Yingli, won a contract to provide panels for a 200 MW power plant under construction in the California desert outside of San Diego.

As the Chinese industry consolidates, Trina and Yingli are emerging as China’s top competitors in the power plant business. However, unlike First Solar and SunPower, Trina and Yingli are not yet acting as developers of photovoltaic power plants in the US and are thus missing out on the lucrative fees that come from building such projects.

Still, Trina’s deal to supply the power producer Sempra’s Copper Mountain project in Nevada is a breakthrough for the Chinese industry, especially with concerns mounting about the quality of China-made solar panels. Some Chinese manufacturers are facing extreme pressures to cut costs as they struggle with billions in debt.

Both Trina and Yingli have taken pains to distance themselves from other Chinese manufacturers and emphasize the quality of their products. Yingli, for instance, has established its own solar panel testing lab in the San Francisco Bay Area and notes that only 15 defective photovoltaic modules have been returned out of the 2.8 million it has sold in the US since 2009.

“We get audited all the time and we welcome customers to come visit our factories,” Mark Mendenhall, president of Trina’s US operations, told Quartz earlier this month. “Quality issues are helping weed out the weak.”