Earlier this month, Andrew de Pass took over as CEO of Conergy. He was the right man for the job. While working as an executive at Kawa Capital, he led the private equity firm's effort to acquire the one-time solar giant when it went bankrupt in 2013.
By the end of 2014, Conergy had near-$500 million in revenue across 300 megawatts of installed solar. In less than two years, the company has returned to profitability (it doesn't disclose the exact level). On Tuesday came the announcement that the energy trading arm of German utility RWE led the investment of a $45 million round of financing for Conergy.
De Pass, who had served as Conergy executive chairman while still at Kawa Capital, which oversees $600 million in investments, recently spoke with CNBC about why the deal to acquire Conergy almost never happened, why he had faith that a bankrupt solar company would be a good bet during a sector downturn, how the company has returned to profitability, and why it will stay that way. [An edited version of the conversation with the solar-turnaround CEO follows.]
CNBC: What did you see in a bankrupt solar company that made it worth your time and money?
De Pass: Conergy was more than just a panel maker. It was at one time the largest publicly traded renewable-energy company in Europe and had a brand as a downstream [project pipeline and development] company, tooâ€”actually, before it got into manufacturing panels and solar inverters. That side of the business is what allowed it to be one of the few turnaround success stories in solar. We were looking at Conergy for its brand and global footprint.
It was clear to us as an asset manager that there would be significant pools of capital moving into long-term ownership of solar. It's real estate without occupancy risk, and it's hard for investors to deploy capital in a meaningful wayâ€”negotiating developer by developer, project by projectâ€”and we knew Conergy was a global business.