Origin Energy closes Sliver solar factory, flags writedown

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Origin Energy considers writing off its $134m investment in Sliver PV technology, after closing US-based Transform Solar plant.

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Origin Energy has called time on its ‘Sliver’ photovoltaics joint venture, Transform Solar, announcing today that operations at the US-based company’s Idaho plant were being discontinued indefinitely, and flagging a writedown of its $134 million, 50 per cent stake in the business.

In a company statement, Transform said it would progressively reduce its Idaho operations during the next three months, with an undisclosed amount of US workers to be stood down.

As we wrote back in February, Origin Energy financed and then bought the Sliver technology, which was developed at the Australian National University and proposes a ultra-thin panel with a significant reduction in the amount of silicon needed, and then partnered with semiconductor group Micron Technologies in 2010.

In February, Origin Energy said it was taking a cautious approach to how it rolled out the unique technology, to make sure it could be cost competitive with the sheer scale of Chinese manufacturers. Origin Energy CEO Grant King told RenewEconomy it was essential that Sliver had the capability to operate at scale, to match the one gigawatt manufacturing plants that are now being installed in China.

“There is no point being a 50MW or 100MW plant, you will be knocked out of the game straight away on scale. So you have really got to be able to see the way forward to invest in quite a large plant,” King said at the time.

“Our work with Micron… encourages us that we can be competitive with Chinese tier one suppliers, but it is a big decision so we are being very careful about that decision and that is what the joint venture is focusing on in the next six months.”

But any optimism on this front seems to have been eroded, with Origin Energy saying today that current market circumstances did not support investment in new technology.

The company said it was”reviewing the carrying value of its 50 per cent interest in Transform Solar, which was $134 million at 31 December 2011. Disclosure of any decision will be made at the release of Origin’s 2011-12 full year results.”

Origin Energy also said that Transform Solar, having demonstrated Sliver’s investment proposition through a 20MW production facility, would retain the intellectual property to the Australian-made technology and expects to continue its development at a laboratory scale.

Only recently, Transform announced that it was collaborating with another party to develop “solar roof” tiles in Japan, based on the technology’s ability to produce cells that are distinctively different, and are smaller, thinner, and more flexible than conventional cells.

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