While many in the solar industry anxiously await the outcome of legal wrangling over tariffs on low-cost modules imported from China, one American-headquartered company has quietly seized business opportunities there.
Those groundbreaking efforts in large-scale solar have enabled SolarMax Technology to open 2018 with 150MW of capacity – another 100 MW will come online in June – making it the largest American-based private company developing solar in China.
SolarMax began its expansion into Asia in 2015 following a sweeping anti-pollution program championed by Chinese government leaders. The company secured the rights to develop and provide ongoing maintenance and operations for several utility-scale projects in the inland province of Guizhou. Another 50MW are planned there in early 2018, while the company builds out another 50MW project in the Ningxia region.
The China strategy was spearheaded by CEO David Hsu, who along with partners Ching Liu and Simon Yuan, founded SolarMax in Southern California a decade ago. The Riverside, California-based company has since grown into a diversified renewable energy powerhouse through its integrated portfolio of rooftop solar, LED lighting, energy storage and utility scale projects.
Hsu formed SolarMax China, a wholly owned subsidiary, by acquiring five formerly independent Chinese-based firms. The strategy enabled the company to deliver end-to-end development solutions, including engineering, procurement and construction (EPC), maintenance and operations, as well as project development.
In 2018, the company will expand its Asia presence in a space it knows well: residential solar. SolarMax has developed an innovative program with banks, utilities and the Chinese central government that effectively enables homeowners the opportunity to switch to solar with zero upfront costs. Installation financing would be provided by banks, which in partnership with the utility, establish a multi-year repayment program with the homeowner that guarantees retirement of the installation debt.
“We see tremendous opportunities in China,” said Mr. Hsu. “To capitalize on them, however, you not only need to know market dynamics, but a deep understanding of the unique cultural and political dimensions to doing business there. I think you can see that in the partnerships we’ve formed as well as the way we’ve structured our operations.”