Solar companies SunPower Corp., which received a conditional guarantee for a $1.2 billion loan from the feds in the spring of 2011, and First Solar Inc., which received a $4.5 billion loan guarantee from the U.S. Energy Department the same year, announced on Monday their plans to expand — in China.

First Solar, the biggest U.S. solar panel maker, agreed to supply 2 megawatts (MW) of its thin-film solar modules to a solar project in Xinjiang province in western China, in the first quarter of 2013,” Reuters reports.

According to First Solar, this will be the company’s first commercial demonstration project in China.

Smaller rival SunPower said it will team up with its partners in China to manufacture and sell its concentrating solar-power systems in the Asian country,” Reuters notes, adding that the company, “which is majority owned by France’s Total SA,” plans on investing “$15 million and receive a 25 percent stake in the $60 million joint venture.”

“China could potentially even be the biggest solar market, in terms of demand, the next year and the year beyond,” said Aaron Chew, analyst at Maxim Group.

The Chinese market is expected to grow to 7 gigawatts in 2013 from its current rate of 4-5 GW this year, Chew adds.

“However, he doesn’t expect First Solar and Sunpower to see a huge demand opportunity in the Asian country as Chinese producers themselves had tons of gigawatts of unused capacity,” Reuters is careful to note.

“First Solar shares were almost unchanged at $27.09 in afternoon trade on Monday on the Nasdaq, while SunPower shares were up nearly a percent at $4.62.”

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