German utility RWE is to acquire a minority stake in global downstream solar player, Conergy.

The move was hailed by the company’s new CEO, Andrew de Pass, as marking the beginning of what he hoped would become a trend of utilities investing in solar companies as the technology reaches parity worldwide.

Although Conergy did not disclose the sum invested by RWE, it said the equity stake formed part of a bigger investment round totalling US$45 million that also included many of Conergy’s existing shareholders.

The company was also at pains that the move did not presage a pending acquisition by RWE. Earlier this month de Pass was quoted saying the company could be heading for an IPO within two years, suggesting Kawa Capital, the investor that rescued Conergy from bankruptcy in late 2013, is looking for an exit strategy. But de Pass stressed a sale to RWE was not on the cards.

“RWE has stated that this is a financial investment for them to grow their money and potentially use Conergy as a platform to invest more in the solar PV sector. We are in line with RWE that this is not an impending acquisition. We will grow Conergy independently and return profits to them along with our other shareholders,” de Pass said in an email to Solar Power Portal's sister site, PV Tech.

The move does however reveal more about RWE’s plans for expanding its presence in renewable energy.

The company has already ruled out the likelihood it will follow the lead of its rival, E.On, by divesting from fossil fuels and focusing on renewables. However, in results last week, the company did renewables would be one of its key focuses in coming years, with €1 billion earmarked for renewablesover the next three years. This move would appear to bear out that strategy.

For Conergy’s part, the company said the investment from RWE would allow it to continue expanding its global footprint, which now covers 15 countries.

“We will use this latest investment round to grow our business equally across the Americas, Europe/Africa and Asia Pacific. We will actually be announcing the launch of an office in our 16th nation next week,” de Pass told PV Tech.

He said the company’s biggest growth markets in 2015 were Japan, Philippines, Mexico, Chile, Central America and Africa. “We will continue our business primarily in utility-scale solar and also grow our rooftop C&I business and do some residential this year,” de Pass added.

On the broader significance of a utility buying a stake in a solar company, de Pass said: “This investment is one of the first in a growing trend of utilities investing in solar companies. 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.”