Apple just invested in China’s largest wind-turbine maker to power its supply chain

Image: Reuters/Sheung Li
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What does an iPhone have in common with a wind turbine in rural China? Apple is behind them both.

Apple has invested in four subsidiaries of Goldwind, China’s largest wind-turbine manufacturer. Each branch is located in a different province—Henan, Shandong, Shanxi, and Yunnan—and Apple will take a 30% stake in each, according to a Dec. 7 statement from Goldwind (link in Chinese). The specific terms of the deal remain undisclosed.

Lisa Jackson, Apple’s vice president of environmental initiatives, told local media (link in Chinese) that the investments in wind turbines will collectively yield 285 megawatts of clean energy. The company hopes to direct the power toward manufacturers connected to Apple’s supply chain.

Located in the Xinjiang province in northwest China, Goldwind as of last year supplied 12.5% of the market for wind turbine installations, making it the nation’s largest player, according to research firm FTI Intelligence. It focuses almost entirely on the domestic market, installing 98% of its machines in China.

This is not the first time Apple has invested in a renewable energy project in China. In June 2015 it launched a joint venture with California-based SunPower, a maker of solar panels, to build two solar projects totaling 40 MW in Sichuan, which it completed in October of that year.

Since much of Apple’s production occurs in China, investing in green energy initiatives helps it reduce the environmental impact of its manufacturing. It also aligns with the Chinese government’s initiatives. In order to curb rampant pollution, Beijing has committed to increasing the nation’s solar capacity to 140 gigawatts by 2020 (three times higher than in 2015), and it’s set equally ambitious goals for wind energy. Subsidies and state prodding have led to surging investment in green technologies—in 2015 China invested $103 billion in renewable energy initiatives, according to a UN study.

Funneling money towards helping China reach its environmental targets could help insulate Apple from the government’s protectionist tendencies—which remain ever important as sales in China begin to wane. Recently the company has suffered various setbacks in China, some major, some minor.

This month a state-affiliated consumer watchdog group repeatedly criticized Apple for not thoroughly managing a battery malfunction plaguing the iPhone 6 and 6s series. Meanwhile, another such group in Shanghai put up a notice publicizing eight iPhone explosions that occurred in China. The company also faces an ongoing intellectual-property dispute (link in Chinese) against a Shenzhen-based smartphone maker. Perhaps most notably, it lost permission to operate iBooks and iTunes in China earlier this year.