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Apple’s controversial gadget maker mulls move into solar

Reuters/ AFR | Aug. 14, 2013
Foxconn Technology Group will decide by year-end whether to branch off into making solar panels in China.

The longer-term future depends largely on whether China can boost domestic demand and Japan keeps buying solar panels to help offset the loss of nuclear power shut off after the Fukushima Daiichi nuclear disaster in 2011.

Foxconn first indicated its interest in expanding its solar presence in 2011, when it signed a preliminary deal with top Chinese solar silicon producer GCL-Poly Energy Holdings to set up solar-related ventures in northern China. But they have made no headway. GCL-Poly declined to comment.

In March, the Guangxi government said it would work with Foxconn on a plan to expand the firm's businesses in the province, including a proposal to build five solar equipment plants and 20 solar farms. The announcement, posted on the ministry's website, gave no details.

Zhu Hanwen, an official at the Commerce Ministry's branch in Guangxi, told Reuters that Foxconn was still negotiating with the local government on the proposed solar projects but "no projects have been launched yet".

Foxconn's Hsing confirmed that the company had not signed any contracts with the Guangxi government on solar investment.

If Foxconn makes a big foray into solar manufacturing, it may become a formidable industry player, thanks in part to its cost-control expertise.

Foxconn has come under fire in recent years for working conditions in its factories in China, which employ 1.2 million people to mass produce electronics components and gadgets such as iPads and iPhones.

Its enigmatic founder and chairman Terry Gou, after a series of suicides among young workers at Foxconn China factories in the past few years, has talked about plans to put 1 million robots in its factories. It has also been moving its China factories inland, including Guangxi, in search of lower labour costs as wages soar in coastal cities.

With a global footprint that far surpasses other industry players, Foxconn has the potential to embed itself as deeply in the worldwide solar supply chain as it has in smartphones and computers. As trade disputes continue to keep the sector on high alert, Foxconn can take advantage of the huge scale to shift production elsewhere and sidestep export restrictions and tariffs.

It could also play a role as a panel contractor rather than launch products under its own brand.

Fox Energy signed a deal in April to make up to 350 MW of solar modules at a plant in Mexico for SunEdison, a solar services provider controlled by MEMC Electronic Materials, said a statement on the US company's website, which Foxconn confirmed.


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