Origin ends Sliver R&D, but lifts Australia solar profits

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Origin Energy has pulled the plug on its Sliver solar PV technology, announcing that its Transform Solar joint venture in the US will be wound up completely, and even R&D work brought to an end.

The company cited the “ongoing deterioration of the global solar market” for the decision, which follows the announcement last year to pull out of commercial development of the technology, close a production plant and write off its entire $130 million.

Despite the global problems, Origin Energy said profits from its Australian solar PV installation business rebounded in the December half, as a lift in margins from solar products offset another sharp fall in the number of rooftop installations.

Origin Energy is one of the biggest solar PV installers in the country, and said the number of installations in the December half fell by around a quarter to 7,772, from 10,606 a year earlier. This compares to a peak of 18,028 installations in the December, 2010 half year.

The company said the fall was the result of the winding back of state-based feed in tariffs, and the number of renewable energy certificates issued under the Federal Government’s solar bonus scheme.

Still, despite the fall in revenue to $102 million, it increased profits from the division by $11 million to $29 million, citing higher margin solar products, and lower hardware costs.

It also noted that the continuing penetration of solar PV and other factors caused a “small reduction” in average electricity use per customer.

The decision to end the Transform venture with Micron Technologies was not unexpected, given the write-off a year earlier.

The Sliver technology was originally developed at the Australian National University and featured reduced amounts of silicon for solar panels.

But given the plunge in the cost of silicon, and the intense competition from Chinese solar manufacturers, it was decided that the US-based manufacturing operations of Transform could simply not compete.

That decision followed write-offs of its geothermal interests with Geodynamics, although it has until the end of this financial year to buy back into that joint venture. Meanwhile, Origin Energy is continuing to pursue geothermal developments in Indonesia and Chile, as well as its massive hydro scheme in PNG.


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