GCL-Poly backing grid AI application with new joint venture

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While advancing plans to maintain production capacity with fewer wafer manufacturing facilities, Chinese polysilicon and wafer maker GCL-Poly has announced a joint venture with Japan’s Mitsui and Israel’s eVolution Networks.

The eVolution Energy JV will seek to tap artificial intelligence (AI) technology to reduce grid losses and optimize network infrastructure equipment.

eVolution’s AI algorithms will use big data from the grid to learn patterns of behavior and forecast real-time demand. Touted as a leap into the future for power companies, the advanced learning solution promises huge CAPEX and OPEX savings.

“There’s huge potential for AI technology to predict and optimize the grid performance,” said Roy Morad, CEO of eVolution Innovation Group. “Utility companies will be able to transform from the long-standing manual managed to sophisticated, agile and green operation.”

GCL-Poly confirmed it will invest in the new venture. “We are very happy to bring our partner Mitsui, together with whom we will contribute to the growth of eVolution Energy as strategic investors by leveraging our resources and market access in China, Japan and Southeast Asia,” said Donglei Yan, investment managing director of GCL-Poly.

Links with Mitsui

The investment announcement follows the establishment of a JV between GCL-Poly and Mitsui in June aimed at accelerating investment in new-generation energy and infrastructure related business in China and other ‘selected’ countries. Launched with a $50 million cash pile, the JV fund was announced as the first step towards a long-term strategic partnership between GCL and Mitsui, with the partners expected to make further capital contributions when required.

GCL-Poly appears to have made an astute gamble in expanding poly production capacity despite a heavy debt pile and at a time when the global market was still reeling from an apparent u-turn on public solar subsidies by the Chinese government. The manufacturer took an expansionary stance regardless and, with China having made encouraging news on PV deployment once more and developing solar markets around the world set to boom this year, GCL sent positive signals last month by granting a 10 month extension to the repayment date of a $110 million loan to its wholly-owned subsidiary GNE Development.

Cutting edge

After a failed attempt to sell a majority stake in its main polysilicon unit, Jiangsu Zhongneng, last year, the solar manufacturer agreed to sell wafer unit Suzhou Kezhun to the Huajun Holding Group for $124 million. The transaction was arranged as part of the company’s plan to focus on wafer manufacturing based on diamond-wire sawing and to shift production to low-cost industrial locations.

In January, GCL warned it expects to have made a RMB534 million ($79.6 million) loss for the first 10 months of last year but said that figure would be compensated for by the sale of the wafer unit. The manufacturer said its operating performance had been hit by an increase in finance costs and currency exchange losses as well as a lower average selling price for wafers.

GCL is yet to release its fourth-quarter and full year 2018 results.