A SMALL Victorian engineering company which turned to an invention to boost its business during the recession, is to sell solar powered street lights to two Chinese provinces - deals which may be worth up to A$1 billion (about HK$5.18 billion) in the next10 years, it says. Northsteel, a structural steel and mechanical engineering company based in Geelong, an hours' drive southwest of Melbourne, is to provide lights for secondary highways in Beijing and Changzhou through two joint ventures which will not require it to put up any equity. The names of the joint venture partners will be formally announced next month. Mr Trevor Bartlett, general manager of Northsteel and its wholly owned subsidiary Sunlight Solar Systems Australia, which developed the lights, said they would initially be manufactured and assembled in Australia. Mr Bartlett said Northsteel had 32 staff, six of whom worked for Sunlight Solar. The Sunlight light, equivalent in power to an 80 watt mercury vapour light, is guaranteed to last 20 years. It is selling to the Chinese companies for A$2,300 per unit. Mr Bartlett said the initial Beijing order was for A$150,000 worth and the first order from Changzhou was expected to be for A$300,000. The two Chinese companies had said they would place early orders worth A$20 million each, he said. ''I think A$100 million per annum is going to be very realistic and I see this being a billion dollar industry for us over the next 10 years. And that's conservative.'' He said the contact with the Chinese companies came after an Australian newspaper article about the invention in January: ''They were very open, honest and quick; they wanted to get it done. Mr Bartlett said the market potential for the light was enormous, with a lack of available power for manufacturing industry a major problem throughout Southeast Asia. Northsteel was working on having a solar light capable of lighting a major highway economically viable within a year. A visit to Malaysia en route from China brought an offer from the University of Technology in Johor state to act as agents, orders were already arriving and delegations from New Zealand and the Philippines were due in Geelong this week. Mr Bartlett said Northsteel had done its Chinese deals without government help, turning to the Asian market because of a lack of enthusiasm for its product in Australia. ''We have taken a phenomenal risk in doing this and we have put forward all the money so far. We were just getting so many brick walls and closed doors in Australia.'' He said Northsteel had been operating for 14 years, but had a major injection of funds and looked to diversify four years ago when a new owner, Mr Ken Jarvis, took over. ''We were looking for something more profitable in the long term. We bought the rights to a solar panel and we thought of making a solar street light. We thought we would have it in three days and it took two years. ''The company has now changed direction from 90 per cent structural engineering and 10 per cent solar - we now have a 70-30 ratio.'' Mr Bartlett says Northsteel manufactures the light poles and frames, sources batteries from Queensland and solar panels from BP Solar, and is getting the electronics to convert the solar energy into power from Sunlight Solar Systems. All these electronic components would be manufactured by Solar for the Chinese, but it would supply the engineering drawings to its joint venture partners under licence. It also planned to diversify into other solar fields such as solar pumps.