Suntech to close Aussie R&D unit

Wuxi Suntech will end its R&D activities in Australia, as the divestment movement within Australia’s renewables sector gains steam amid reports that the government will scrap the country’s renewables target.

Wuxi Suntech, owned since earlier this year by China’s Shunfeng, has always had deep ties to Australia.

Shi Zhengrong, the founder and former chief executive of Suntech Power, completed his Ph.D. studies in Australia and subsequently became a naturalized citizen, before returning to China to start Suntech.

Wuxi Suntech has about a dozen R&D-related employees in Australia, and has been pumping A$3m ($2.8m) or so a year into their research, according to the Sydney Morning Herald.

The facility will be closed next month, with R&D activities consolidated into Wuxi Suntech’s China-based operations.

“Suntech wants to continue a relationship with Australia, but it no longer makes the same sense to keep a research team [here],” Renate Egan, managing director of the R&D unit, was quoted as saying.

“Clearly the [large-scale PV market] is not going to grow here.”

Wuxi Suntech is only the latest foreign renewables company to ease away from Australia, amid a government review that could see the country’s renewables target scaled back significantly or – as appears increasingly likely – scrapped altogether.

Last month it emerged that Recurrent Energy, the San Francisco-based solar developer owned by Japan’s Sharp, would close its Australian office. Many renewables heavy-hitters, Senvion and Infigen among them, have warned of dire consequences in the event the target were binned.

Not all renewables companies appear spooked by Prime Minister Tony Abbott’s review of the renewables target, however.

Earlier this week SunPower announced that it will launch a pilot version of its residential solar leasing programme in Melbourne. SunPower has been present in Australia since 2008.