As Spain clinched its first soccer World Cup victory, Chinaâ€™s green power also emerged as a winner on the field in South Africa. For 8 minutes of every game, spectators and television audiences around the world witnessed the rising profile of Chinaâ€™s burgeoning solar energy sector. The displays of â€œYingli Solarâ€ (in English) and â€œChina Yingliâ€ (in Mandarin) were sponsored byÂ Yingli Green Energy Holding Co, currently the worldâ€™s sixth largest manufacturer of photovoltaic (PV) panels. Founded in 1998, the companyâ€™s meteoric rise mirrors that of Chinaâ€™s green energy sector. While Yingliâ€™s largest export destinations are avid soccer nations in Europe and North America, its bold advertising campaign also captured the companyâ€™s desire to expand into the AfricanÂ market.
NumerousÂ reportsÂ andÂ assessmentsÂ have highlighted Africaâ€™s underdeveloped renewable energy potential, both as an opportunity for development and for investment. China appears to be responding, upping the ante at the 2009Â FOCACÂ Summit when Wen Jiabao pledged 100 solar, bio-gas and hydro power projects as part of Chinaâ€™s $10 billion assistance package to the continent.
This commitment, coupled with its domestic solar tech industry vying for new markets, should spur greater activities in Africaâ€™s solar sector. Although, China has provided extensive ongoing technicalÂ training and assistanceÂ for solar power technicians in Africa, it is only more recently that the growing capacity of its PV industry provided new opportunities for harnessing Africaâ€™s solar potential.
AÂ dealÂ with Kenya in 2009 to optimize solar cells for the countryâ€™s climate was regarded with great anticipation as the first step toward opening the African market to Chinaâ€™s solar power industry. While the projectâ€™s future is uncertain, it has not deterred other investments. Recently, another Chinese company Sun Tech, secured aÂ promising dealÂ with a Tanzanian firm to distribute solar panels in the country and to its neighbors. By boosting access to electricity in one of the least developed regions in the world, the business opportunities for solar cells also serves critical development needs. Furthermore, the lower impact and environmentally friendlier nature of solar power could avoid some of the criticisms faced by other Chinese energy projects on the continent.
While there are undoubtedly opportunities for advancing business and development objectives, Yingli also has another aspiration: to present a new face for Chinese business activities. A spokespersonÂ notedÂ that Chinese activities on the continent have been traditionally dominated by state-owned petroleum and infrastructure enterprises while Yingli enters the market as a privately held company. Armed with a staggeringÂ $5.3 billion loanÂ to expand domestic and overseas activities, Yingli’s future appears sunny, in Africa or otherwise.