As the global oil industry realizes record profits amid rising gas prices, European oil producer Total S.A. (NYSE: TOT) has offered as much as $1.4 billion for a 60% interest in SunPower Corporation (Nasdaq: SPWRA), the biggest solar-cell maker in the U.S.
The French energy giant would also inject an additional $1 billion in credit to the San Jose, Calif.-based company over five years. The tentative deal has been approved by both firms' boards.
The move is welcome news for SunPower, which has been hard hit by competition from low-cost Chinese photovoltaic outfits. Total, which has 93,000 employees and a presence in 130 countries, has been involved in solar power since the early 1980s and currently manufactures PV panels in France.
Total's competitors have also dipped their toes into renewables, with little success. After initially refusing to invest in clean energy initiatives, Exxon Mobil, the world's largest publicly traded oil and gas producer by market value, has sunk hundreds of millions of dollars into algae-based biofuel research but hasn't commercialized any product. Royal Dutch Shell sold off a major portion of its solar panel production operations several years ago. And, still-embattled BP has scaled back its alternative energy activities in recent years.
With a controlling stake in SunPower, Total could use its financial strength and global reach to expand all aspects of the company's business, from manufacturing cells and panels to developing solar plants.
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