Japanese electronics company Sharp is planning to expand its presence in the renewable energy market through a new joint venture with Italian utility Enel.

The two companies want to develop and operate a number of solar power plant projects around the Mediterranean, and are also considering establishing a thin film solar cell manufacturing facility in Italy.

The new joint venture will start operating in the spring of 2009, developing photovoltaic (PV) power plants with a total capacity of 189 MW by the end of 2012. It will operate as an independent power producer (IPP), initially targeting southern Italy.

The two companies will invest around Yen100 billion ($1.1 billion) in the joint venture.

Sharp says the move is part of its strategy to create the world’s first “solar business model” by integrating PV cell manufacturing with project development and plant operation. The company is the world’s largest PV cell manufacturer.

Sharp, Enel and a third European manufacturing company are also in talks to build a solar cell manufacturing plant in Italy to support the new joint venture’s operations. It will have an initial output of 480 MW/year starting in mid-2010 and the potential to expand capacity to 1 GW/year in the future.

Sharp and Enel’s joint venture will eventually expand operations into the wider Mediterranean region, exploiting opportunities under the ‘Mediterranean solar plan’, which aim to develop 20 GW of installed capacity by 2020.