Luvata sees copper product boost for renewables

LONDON Thu Apr 21, 2011 8:23am EDT

LONDON (Reuters) - Luvata expects higher sales of copper products used in renewable energy in coming months and years as governments around the world look away from nuclear power, a company executive told Reuters.

Japan's earthquake and tsunami, which has crippled some of the country's nuclear power plants, has thrown the spotlight on renewable energy as an alternative, said Jussi Helavirta, head of Luvata's special products division said this week.

"This catastrophe we have seen in Japan and the one in the Gulf of Mexico last year will push governments toward renewable energy," Helavirta said.

His firm sells products for solar, wind and thermal energy. It expects sales of products used to generate solar electric energy to jump to 40 million euros ($58.39 million) this year from 12 million euros in 2010.

April 20 was the first anniversary of the Deepwater Horizon rig explosion at BP's Macondo undersea well in the Gulf of Mexico.

The accident killed 11 workers and triggered the United States' worst offshore oil spill, which was also the biggest ever accidental release of oil into an ocean.

Helavirta expects both Japan and the oil spill to spur governments into action.

"The renewable energy business is generally based on subsidies. I think there will be more subsidies to replace risky nuclear energy with renewable energy," he said.

"Subsides are a big issue in the uptake of renewable energy in all countries."

GENEROUS INCENTIVES

Italy's solar sector, among the biggest in Europe, has boomed since 2007 when state-backed production incentives were first launched. But Italy has decided to scrap the existing generous solar incentives starting in June.

It has drafted a new support scheme for solar power generation. The decree would in part cap subsidies for solar developers at between 6 billion euros and 7 billion euros per year by the end of 2016, when installed capacity is expected to be around 23,000 megawatts.

Helavirta expects the Italian government to rethink its strategy after the crises in Japan and the Gulf of Mexico.

"It may take some time, but the public is now more receptive to renewable energy," he said.

Reinforcing the expectation of a bigger move toward renewables is Germany, the world's biggest solar market.

A paper prepared for Germany's environment ministry reflects the government's changing views on nuclear energy in the wake of the Japanese nuclear disaster and urges a redoubling of efforts to expand renewable energy.

Japan's nuclear crisis has already prompted a shutdown of several nuclear plants in Germany and its government is set to shore up the renewable sector.

Luvata makes oxygen-free copper which is valued for its ability to conduct electricity and used in generators for wind-turbine and tidal power generators.

For solar, Luvata produces Sunwire, a copper-based, tin-alloy plated flat wire, used in photovoltaic technology, which turns the sun's rays into electricity.

"Sunwire harvests electricity from the silicon wafers," Helavirta said, adding that Luvata also markets copper strips used in solar thermal applications.

Luvata employs more than 7,000 people in 35 locations around the world. The company is privately owned and will not reveal financial figures such as turnover or profits.

(Editing by Jason Neely)