Tuesday, 14 June 2011

Solar group relocates to USSolar group relocates to US

2 June 2011, Page: 6

AN Adelaide solar cell manufacturer has closed its doors and is relocating to the US after deciding that an Australian based operation cannot be viable. In a cautionary tale for governments desperate to embrace smart, sustainable jobs in a clean energy future, Origin Energy Solar is heading to the Boise, Idaho, headquarters of silicon chip maker Micron Technology.

Micron Technology can deliver the semiconductor capability necessary for Origin Energy Solar to commercially develop super slim solar panels that use SLIVER photovoltaic technology pioneered at the Australian National University in Canberra. But the US relocation means state and federal grants totalling $8 million will produce nothing in terms of sustainable green energy jobs.

Since 2005, the Origin Energy subsidiary has received $2m from a state federal structural adjustment fund, $lm from the Australian Greenhouse Office and $5m from an AusIndustry renewable energy development initiative. The AusIndustry money helped buy capital equipment that is now being dismantled for transport to Idaho.

In 2006, Origin Energy Solar said it was "committed to the continuing development of our Regency Park SLIVER pilot plant and to the likely employment opportunities that are expected to flow". But, since then, competition from cheaper Chinese made solar panels has increased and Indian manufacturers have also entered the market. Both countries are also making significant progress in developing their own photovoltaic technologies.

South Australian Industries Minister Tom Koutsantonis said he was disappointed by Origin Energy Solar's decision to leave, but stressed the company would be refunding the state's full grant allocation of $243,900. "This is risky business, but the biggest risk is in doing nothing because renewable energy is the way of the future", Mr Koutsantonis said. A spokeswoman for Origin Energy said some of the 62 fulltime equivalent employees at Origin Energy Solar would transfer to Idaho, some had taken redundancies and some had transferred to the parent company.