The Renewable Renaissance
HALCOM Vietnam continues to drive sustainable development across the country, the company spearheading a number of pioneering renewable energy projects
Writer: Tom Wadlow | Project Manager: Donovan Smith | Photography: Tuan Anh Nguyen
When Vietnam moved to middle-income status in 2018/19, it capped what can only be described as a remarkable economic turnaround.
One of the world’s poorest countries in the 1980s, a huge series of reforms launched under Đổi Mới spurred rapid socioeconomic growth. Per capita GDP surpassed $2,700 in 2019, a growth of 270 percent since 2002, a period which has also seen more than 45 million people lifted out of poverty.
Early data suggests the Vietnamese economy expanded by seven percent last year although, like many nations, it has been hit hard by the COVID-19 pandemic.
However, the fundamentals remain extremely positive, a feeling reflected by Saurabh Mathur, CEO of HALCOM Vietnam, a specialist investment and consultancy firm focused on urban and infrastructure development.
“It is very exciting to be working in this space because of Vietnam’s fast-growing economy,” he says. “To extend the discussion into our industry, which is largely centred on renewable energy, the opportunity is significant.
“Currently, around nine percent of the country’s energy mix is comprised of renewables, surpassing the target set for this year which was seven percent. Developing clean energy is quintessential if Vietnam wants to proceed with its annual growth in a green and sustainable manner.”
Indeed, electricity consumption has tripled over the past decade, growing faster than output, and the Vietnamese government has recently encouraged private sector to invest into RE, a void which HALCOM Vietnam is determined to help fill through renewable, sustainable developments.
This responsible ethos and mindset to deliver on large projects was key to Mathur joining the firm in the summer of 2018, the CEO having spent the last eight years living in Hanoi and working with smaller businesses and big corporates in Vietnam, the Middle East and India.
“The journey so far has been exciting and eventful,” he says. “I am here with my family and we thoroughly enjoy living in Vietnam.
“In this short amount of time, I have had the opportunity to successfully develop our first greenfield 21 MW wind project, which became operational in Q1 this year, and now we have embarked on the construction of our first solar farm in southern Vietnam which will be completed in December this year. The pace of execution at HALCOM is fast.”
The company has been consulting on infrastructure projects since it was established in 2001, and extended its investing field in2014.
Working on projects spanning water supply, sewage works, waste management and transportation throughout the past two decades, the major focus currently lies with driving renewable energy developments, especially in the fields of solar and wind.
It works closely with multilateral donors such as the World Bank, Asian Development Bank and Japanese International Cooperation Agency, which in turn has led to HALCOM curating its own international-standard corporate compliance programme and code of conduct.
This, for Mathur, is a standout feature of working for the organisation. “We are a small and nimble company which focuses on efficient and timely execution of projects and, because of our transparent and open culture, many international investors have decided to join us in our renewable projects,” he adds.
It hasn’t all been plain sailing in recent times, however, as restrictions imposed to curb the spread of COVID-19 has led to disruption in the economy. Though HALCOM didn’t suffer any significant impact, the lockdown restricted movement of foreign experts which the company relies on to consult on various projects.
In response, the company has taken on more local experts, and now building activities are starting to resume as lockdown measures ease, progress can once again be made.
Ramping up renewables
As Mathur has referred to, the completion of HALCOM’s first renewable energy project was perfectly timed in relation to the arrival of coronavirus.
Located at the Nhon Hoi Economic Zone in Binh Dinh province, the Phuong Mai 3 wind power plant spans 122 hectares and total investment is about $42 million in direct investment, with HALCOM taking over in 2017 and construction work beginning in 2018.
“With the total capacity of 21 MW, Phuong Mai 3 will supply over 65 million kwh to the national electrical grid a year, save 50,000 tonnes of CO2 annually, and achieve estimated annual revenue of 140 billion dongs,” Mathur adds.
“It is also a success story in terms of financing. The plant was financed by Bank of Investment and Development of Vietnam, Cau Giay. It is also proudly the second project in Vietnam that is financed by export credit – by Landesbank Baden-Württemberg (LBBW), the fourth biggest bank in Germany – enhancing the project’s financial effectiveness and demonstrating international cooperation.
“Being a consulting company by DNA, we rely heavily on our international and local partners, and also our individual consultants and collaborators. We have had several successful partnerships in our wind projects, and we would like to particularly emphasise the tremendous support we’ve received from our financing partner, LBBW.”
This is the first wind farm in the province and is made of up six Siemens Gamesa Renewable Energy turbines, each 114 metres in height with a blade diameter of 132 metres.
“This clean energy source contributes to the electricity supply which faces a shortage, not only locally, but also in Vietnam in general,” Mathur continues.
“In the long run, the plant will contribute to the provincial economic and social development, create jobs, and add to a beautiful landscape which will help attract tourism. What makes us proud is that it has inspired other renewable energy investors to consider the province, as Binh Dinh has high wind and solar power potential.”
HALCOM also has plans to install solar power capacity at Phuong Mai 3, and is further invested in another solar project in the Phung Hiep district of the Hau Giang province, nestled in the Mekong Delta region in the southern part of Vietnam.
Once more the project represents multiple firsts – not only is it HALCOM’s first foray into solar power, but also the Hau Giang province’s inaugural solar plant.
Covering 33 hectares, it will deliver 35 MW of power once construction is completed in December 2020, the groundworks and clearance having begun in February.
Responsibility at heart
All of this activity is carried out with compliance and responsibility front and centre of HALCOM’s motives.
Mathur has already cited the corporate compliance programme as a key reason why he was attracted to the company in 2018, these standards informed by the World Bank’s integrity guidelines.
“This ensures our commitment in doing business fairly and transparently, for the benefit of all stakeholders, avoiding corruption, bribe and conflicts of interests among related parties,” the CEO says. “We work hard to bring sustainable benefits to the community and society with transparency and innovation.”
Mathur also explains how HALCOM has joined a long-term national programme – ‘Together joining hands for the poor – No one is left behind’ – initiated by VN Fatherland Front.
“This aims to build up houses and implement social security activities for the poor,” he adds. “We also join hands in supporting poor civilians in central and Mekong Delta provinces such as Binh Dinh and Hau Giang, where we are building up renewable energy plants.”
And it is the further development of these projects which will enable HALCOM to contribute even more to the upliftment of disadvantaged communities.
Looking ahead to the next year or two, Mathur reveals the company is committed to building a renewable energy portfolio of about 300 MW, and has recently signed its first international consulting contract for a project in Laos, with plans also to build its first waste to energy plant in Vietnam in 2021.
He signs off confidently, outlining the role HALCOM can play in driving sustainable Vietnamese development in the years to come.
“The whole landscape for renewable energy in Vietnam is extremely exciting,” Mathur says. “There is a huge amount of international interest in this space and we are extremely excited to be part of this journey and contribute to the development of this sector.”