Beyond Solar: BP exits business

It has been more than a year when the green blog reported about the closing of BP Solar’s manufacturing facility in Maryland, US.

According to several news reports last week, BP finally admitted that it can’t handle the solar market and told its staff of 100 employees worldwide that it will fold its solar business after  being in the market for 40 years.

According to Financial Times, BP Solar CEO Mike Petrucci wrote an internal email to staff last week explaining that it had finally realized it can’t many anymore money from solar given the rapidly expanding low-cost solar panel manufacture in China.

According to IMS Research analyst Sam Wilkinson in his blog, average photovoltaic (PV) module price now are 44% lower compared to a year ago. Average gross margins are now in the single digits and most suppliers are making net losses on their operations. PV module manufacturing capacity worldwide is said to have hit 50 GW this year despite demand just reaching 24 GW.

“Clear winners in 2011 have been large pure-play Chinese suppliers, whose lower cost structure and highly aggressive pricing has allowed them gain market share throughout the year. Consequently, 4 of the world’s 5 largest suppliers of PV modules are now Chinese.” – IMS Research

BP started scaling back its solar operations and had reduced its staff by about 1,650 positions since 2008. It now plans to sell its stakes in remaining key projects that it has developed with local partners such as a 32 MW solar plant in the grounds of the US Department of Energy’s Brookhaven National Laboratory in conjunction with the Long Island Power Authority (LIPA).

Get Microsoft Silverlight The Long Island Solar Farm (LISF) project, owned by BP Solar and Met Life, and funded by LIPA, has been completed and commissioned in November (see video). LIPA has not yet announced what will happen to the $298m project, which ratepayers have footed the bill (glad I don’t live in Long Island or I’ll be a little pissed about it!).

Financial Times also cited another 150MW project in Australia, which was billed as the country’s first utility-scale solar power station. According to a Sydney Morning Herald article, BP is said to be sticking for now to the proposed $923m Mooree solar project although the project consortium (which has received commitments of close to $400m in government funding) has yet to sign power-supply agreements needed to advance the project (deadline was supposed to be December 15).

The Australian project is expected to start construction in the second half of 2012, later than previously estimated.

In India, Tata BP Solar, the company’s JV with Tata Power, announced last week that it has not been impacted by BP’s decision to exit the solar business. Tata Power said yesterday that is has agreed to buy BP’s 51% stake in the JV for an undisclosed fee. Tata BP Solar has a 125MW solar module manufacturing capacity.

“The size of the solar market in India will go up to anywhere between 800MW to 1,200MW by the year 2014-2015.” – Tata Power

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