'Focus on the core business': Exclusive interview with Conergy Americas CEO Anthony Fotopoulos

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Conergy announced on Monday the sales of its U.S. solar distribution division to leading solar distributor Soligent and its Canadian distribution business to Ontario-based HES PV. The move will allow Conergy to sharpen its international focus on project development, financing, construction and operations. Conergy Americas CEO Anthony Fotopoulos discusses the move and the company’s sharpened focus on its global downstream business.

pv magazine: There have been a lot of changes at Conergy in the last few years. Can you speak specifically to the sale of the U.S. and Canadian distribution businesses?

Anthony Fotopoulos: Conergy’s aim is to be the global leader in downstream PV, focusing on project development, finance, EPC, and O&M services. So this sale allows us to really focus on our core business, and having that consistent globally. It frees up the resources of time and capital to continue the growth Conergy has had in the Americas as well as globally.

I note that all of the large module makers in the U.S. are in the downstream business as well. Why this move at this time?

Fotopoulos: We think that it is very complementary to our corporate focus on the downstream solar market. With module makers looking to line up projects, Conergy has seen the opportunity to partner with that pipeline and provide finance, EPC and O&M services to the manufacturers. With our relationship with Kawa Capital Management, our majority shareholder, Conergy is in a great position to be a bankable partner for that downstream channel. Just a few months ago Conergy received a US$60 million bank guarantee that allowed us to acquire up to 400MW of projects in the UK, and we are looking for more.

Conergy has the engineering expertise, the qualifications of building large projects – we have built over 700 MW of project around the world – and we feel like in the utility and commercial & industrial space we are one of the only global downstream solar companies that isn’t tied to any kind of manufacturing, and that allows us to really bring the right solutions for customers and partners.

So can you talk more about your relationship with Kawa, and the benefits that this brings?

Fotopoulos: Kawa is our majority shareholder, and they are therefore highly motivated for our success. What Kawa brings to the table with Conergy is the ability to develop innovative financial products and invest in development projects around the world.

Development dollars are the hardest dollars to find. And having creative pools of capital allows us to have the heft and capability to launch all kinds of innovative financial products. So different services for commercial and industrial-type customers, setting up funds for asset ownership, to setting up interesting financial products that can help us serve more customers. With Kawa’s support we can capitalize on Conergy’s global footprint and bring all of those financial capabilities around the globe.

Can you talk about how you expect Conergy’s business to change when the ITC ends in 2016?

Fotopoulos: Starting in 2017 its going to be different, especially on utility-scale projects. Conergy has been a global leader in both commercial and industrial and utility scale projects globally.

However, utility scale projects have never been our focus in the Americas. In the long run we see the largest opportunity globally in commercial scale solar. That is really what we do in the U.S., we have done over 200 different commercial projects in the USA and Canada, and that’s our focus.

That’s the last pot of gold that hasn’t been figured out. And it is totally our focus. We’ve always focused on commercial and industrial and small utility-scale in the U.S. and Canada.

Is there anything that I haven’t asked that you think is important for our readers to know about this deal?

Fotopoulos: The sale of our distribution division in U.S. and Canada is a key step in our strategy that allows us to focus on what we are, which is one of the largest solar project development, finance, EPC, and O&M companies globally. The only other piece I might mention might be on how well Conergy has been doing globally. We’ve had really strong success in terms of strengthening our balance sheet of the company – we are now one of the most bankable solar companies out there. We will built well over 200 MW globally this year alone.

This sale was a focus decision in terms of what we do, and what we know we can do around the world. It opens up resources both in terms of capital and time. It allows us to partner more deeply with developers on early stage, and of course at the mid-to-late stages of the development cycle. And that’s something a lot of other solar companies don’t and really can’t do.

Developers around the world are looking for partners that can provide financial expertise and capital, and who will be a good partner on the technical side – Conergy in North America is now, more than ever, focused on being that partner.