RWE buys stake in Conergy

Describing the move as signifying "confidence" in its continued rapid growth, Conergy announced on Tuesday that German utility giant RWE had acquired an unspecified minority stake in the downstream solar company.

The investment by RWE Supply & Trading (RWEST), RWE’s energy trading arm, comes as part of a total $45 million equity funding round led by Kawa Capital Management, which acquired Conergy in 2013 and maintains majority ownership of the company.

In an interview with pv magazine, Conergy CEO Andrew de Pass said the additional capital would be used to support Conergy’s aggressive global growth plans.

The acquisition also represents a dramatic shift in the utility vs. solar debate that de Pass sees as a growing trend among utility companies in Europe and around the world of embracing renewables rather than hindering their expansion.

“This investment is one of the first in a growing trend of utilities investing in solar companies,” de Pass said. “As solar electricity reaches grid parity on a global basis, utilities will continue to invest in renewables directly and through equity investments in renewable energy companies. Germany is a leader in renewable energy production and the actions of German utilities may be replicated by others around the world as renewables continue to capture a larger share of global energy production.

Commenting on the company’s expansion plans following the RWE deal, de Pass told pv magazine: “We will use this latest investment round, which includes RWE, to grow our business equally across the Americas, Europe/Africa and Asia Pacific. Our biggest growth markets in 2015 are Japan, Philippines, Mexico, Chile, Central America and Africa.”

While RWE is one of the biggest German investor in Egypt, de Pass said there are no current operations in the country, which is eager to expand its solar capacity by 2.3 GW in the next two years.

Conergy is active in the MENA region, however, and has an an office in Dubai and installed a rooftop system on the King Abdullah University in Saudi Arabia.

De Pass added that Conergy would use RWE’s equity investment capital “to secure more pipeline, convert our existing pipeline and grow our business operations.”

The chief exec declined to say how large RWE’s share in Conergy was, stating only that it was a minority stake. Likewise, he declined to reveal the price RWE paid.

In a separate statement, RWE stressed that the investment was purely financial rather than strategic in nature: "RWE’s minority investment into Conergy group is primarily a financial investment done through RWEST’ Principal Investments to fund Conergy’s further international expansion and grow the value of the company over the next 12-24 months. Whilst it is not a strategic investment, RWE will remain open to potentially use this equity partnership with Conergy as a platform for further investments in the solar PV sector as a global growth market.”

Conergy has one of the largest global footprints of any solar company, with a global pipeline approaching 4 GW, and will continue to look for additional markets to be a leader in, de Pass added.

The company recently announced a profitable 2014 with nearly half a billion dollars in revenue, with plans to beef up its services to provide project development, financing, engineering, procurement and engineering (EPC) as well as operations and maintenance (O&M) globally and across all segments: utility-scale, commercial and residential, and in both emerging and high-growth solar markets.

Andree Stracke, a member of the RWE Supply & Trading board, said: “Having worked with Conergy successfully in Europe, we are pleased to be supporting the group’s worldwide expansion.”

The investment follows a partnership between RWE and Conergy in commercial PV solar rentals that targeted RWE’s business customers, initially in Germany, and the finance, construction and sale of one of the U.K.’s biggest solar farms, located at Kencot Hill in Oxfordshire.

“With this important stamp of approval, it is clear that the turnaround of Conergy is complete and our growth trajectory is certain,” de Pass added.