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Origin Energy says solar PV business contracting, but margins lifting

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Origin Energy says it solar PV panel business has lifted earnings in the past year, as increased margins on the sale of rooftop solar modules offset a decline in installations and revenue.

Revenue from what Origin Energy calls its “non commodity business” – but which is primarily made up of rooftop solar PB and solar hot water – fell 26 per cent in the last financial year to $159 million as the rate of installations fell. But increased margins meant that earnings from the division rose 39 per cent to $49 million.

Origin Energy used to be the biggest installer of roof-top solar systems in the country, particularly in the height of the boom inspired by generous (and controlled feed in tariffs).

It has now fallen well down the top 10 list but industry analysts say it’s hard to tell to what extent. Origin Energy did not give a number of how many installations it had made in the past year, other than to say that they were down. In the first half, it had said installation numbers had fallen to 7,772 from 10,606 from the previous December half. In 2011/12, it made a total of 16,009 installations, compared to 36,840 in the prior year at the height of the NSW boom.

While the rate of installations by Origin is falling, the overall market appears to be steady. Trina Solar this week said its module sales in Australia were up 50 per cent, both in the latest quarter and over the full year. That could be the result of increased market share.

Origin Energy managing director Grant King, however, suggested that the rate of uptake had fallen dramatically since the end of the FiTs, and would continue to be moderate at best.

“We believe there will be a continued take up of solar PV, but nowhere near the rate over last 5 years,” he said at a media briefing today in response to a question from RenewEconomy. It’s not clear to what extent this contradicts observations from the energy ministers of NSW and Western Australia, who suggested that the uptake of rooftop solar continued to be strong.

Origin Energy, along with EnergyAustralia, insists on another review of the Renewable Energy Target, and wants it focused on consumer costs, which King says were not properly analysed in the 2012 review.

Origin Energy’s commitment to renewables in Australia remains modest, with only one project – the StockYard Hill wind project in Victoria – on its books at the moment. King indicated today that no decision was likely to be made until after the company had finished its commitments to the construction of its massive LNG facilities in Queensland.

Most of its renewables development are happening overseas, with geothermal and hydro opportunities in Chile and New Zealand, geothermal opportunities in Indonesia, and a potential 2,500MW hydro project in PNG.

It has pulled away from the geothermal joint venture with Geodynamics in the past year, and also wrote off and ended its involvement with the Transform solar venture.  

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  • Stan Hlegeris

    Origin’s intentions here are hard to decipher.

    At the top end, Origin’s md argues for anti-solar policy at every opportunity. The most obvious example of this is Origin’s tireless effort to reduce the Renewable Energy Target.

    But at the retail end, Origin continues to advertise and promote the sale of small grid-connected PV systems, normally just 1.5 kilowatts.

    I can only speculate that Origin does this to make customers feel that they’ve done their solar bit with their piddling little 1.5kW systems, guessing that such people won’t later upgrade to a useful capacity. I’d be willing to bet that those 1.5kW systems are installed with every component selected to discourage subsequent expansion.