BP turns out lights at solar business

LONDON Wed Dec 21, 2011 4:29pm GMT

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LONDON (Reuters) - British oil major BP shut down the remnants of its solar unit on Wednesday, drawing a line under the business on which most of its Beyond Petroleum tagline of the early 2000s was premised.

The unit, which BP has been scaling back since 2008, is the latest sun energy business to fall victim to rampant competition from China, falling prices, overcapacity and lower government subsidies on which the industry still depends.

Solar Millennium on Wednesday became the second German solar company to file for insolvency in December, following module maker Solon.

U.S. company Solyndra LLC folded earlier in 2011 while Swiss bank Sarasin said in a recent study that Conergy and Q-Cells were among the German solar companies most exposed to the sector's crisis.

"The continuing global economic challenges have significantly impacted the solar industry, making it difficult to sustain long term returns for the company, despite our best efforts," BP said in an internal letter to staff.

The company confirmed on Wednesday that it plans to exit its large-scale projects at Long Haven in the U.S. and Moree in Australia.

BP announced plans in July to abandon its household and industrial rooftop solar activities to concentrate on the larger projects but said on December15 that even those were no longer viable.

The solar business at BP, which was set up around 40 years ago, has been shrinking since 2008 when the firm started exiting its manufacturing plants.

The company retains a presence in alternative energy through its U.S. wind power portfolio and its biofuels business and has to date invested $7 billion of a planned $8 billion program in alternative energy.

Shares in BP were down 1 percent to 439.5 pence at 1514 GMT.

(Reporting by Tom Bergin and Sarah Young; Additional reporting by Clara Ferreira-Marques)

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