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Sharp, Italy’s Enel discussing solar venture

By MARI YAMAGUCHI, 26 Nov 2008
Source: Associated Press /

Sharp said Thursday it’s in talks with Italian utility company Enel to set up a European joint venture to produce solar panels – a move that highlights the Japanese electronics company’s ambitions in this key green business.  “We are considering cooperation with Enel SpA to jointly produce solar cells,” Sharp Corp. (other-otc: SHCAY.PK – news – people ) spokeswoman Miyuki Nakayama said, while declining to elaborate. Sharp will give details at a news conference later in the day, she said.

The Nikkei, Japan’s top business daily, reported Thursday that Sharp, the world’s No. 2 maker of solar cells, plans to invest about $1.57 billion (150 billion yen) in a joint venture with Enel and an European machinery maker to build a solar-cell panel plant in Italy, set to be running by 2010.  Enel, Italy’s top power company, and the unidentified machinery maker will hold a combined majority stake while Sharp will hold the rest, the Nikkei said, without citing sources.

Sharp and Enel plan to build the factory with initial output of 480 megawatts by the summer of 2010, the Nikkei said. That will be later boosted to 1,000 megawatts, enough to power about 250,000 Japanese homes, making the plant among the world’s largest, it said.  The planned plant will build thin-film solar cells, which are newer and more environmentally friendly than the crystal kind made of silicone, which are now more common.

Sharp has been stepping up investment in solar panels to boost market share, hoping to clinch the No. 1 spot from leader Q-Cells AG of Germany, the Nikkei said.  Sharp in October boosted its thin-film solar cell production at its Katsuragi factory in western Japan, which mainly produces conventional silicone cells.

Sharp is also building a plant for thin-film solar cells in nearby Sakai City for launch in 2010. It produces crystal solar cells at Katsuragi, and runs plants in the U.S. and Britain.  Earlier this year, Sharp and Enel announced a separate project to jointly build a solar power plant in Italy.