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ABB Has High Hopes for Bright Solar Future

ABB Has High Hopes for Bright Solar Future

ABB Ltd., the world’s largest builder of power grids, said growth in the solarindustry will become steadier as falling installation costs and the need to conserve oil help replace the fading subsidies that kickstarted the market in Europe.

“We are not in this business because we believe it’s subsidy-driven,” said Maxine Ghavi, the head of ABB’s solar initiative. “The market is still volatile, fragmented and in its infancy. In the mid-to-long-term, it will stabilize. We will see more steady growth.”

The cost of producing solar power has fallen over the last five years, leading to cuts in the subsidies awarded to installations. Some markets, including China, will continue to have incentives in the short to medium-term, Ghavi said.

ABB bet $1 billion on growth in solar with the acquisition of inverter-maker Power One Inc. earlier this year that made it the world No. 2 for solar inverter-equipment. By contrast, Siemens AG is closing itssolar-power unit offering solarthermal power technology following losses of $1 billion in two years.

The European Photovoltaic Industry Association forecasts cumulative global solar installations could double in the three years through 2015 to 197.6 gigawatts, spurred by growth across Europe, China and America. ABB is budgeting for the solar- inverter market to be worth as much as $7 billion this year, Ghavi said.

Saudi Surges

Solar subsidies, which helped to nurture growth in Europe’s solar market, are now retreating, as technology costs fall and governments focus on cutting debts.

Ghavi, who was hired to lead ABB’s solar initiative in 2011 after a management role at OC Oerlikon AG’s solar unit, said the decreasing cost of producing solar energy relative to fossil fuels and the need to conserve oil will provide a more steady support to demand.

Saudi Arabia, the world’s leading crude exporter, continues to burn oil for electricity to meet summer surges in demand for air conditioning. Growing global energy demand and the need to diversify theenergy mix away from traditional sources will also support the growth of solar, she said.

“Instead of selling oil at $100 a barrel, they are subsidizing for domestic use at $5-10 a barrel,” said Ghavi. “There are economical reasons why they should implement solar and preserve the oil for export as a source of revenue.”

Copyright 2013 Bloomberg

Lead image: Solar panels via Shutterstock

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