Hanergy specialises in developing and financing clean energy sources such as water, wind and the sun, looking to contribute to making global energy provision cleaner and more sustainable – starting with China and the Netherlands. “We’re no idealistic environmentalists, though,” emphasises Li Ming, chief executive officer of Hanergy Holding Europe, in the company’s head office in Amsterdam. “We’re a profit and social responsibility-driven private company.” The combination is not impossible: it’s an astonishing growth market. According to independent estimates, in 2020 investment in energy transition will be as high as it is in the extraction of fossil energy now. If you want to play a leading role, you need to be active in all growth markets – and that includes Europe. “We are active here in three ways as Hanergy Holding (Europe),” says Li Ming. “We set up projects for sustainable energy, maintain them and, together with our subsidiaries, we look for investors for the projects. We develop financial products to raise the necessary capital, and we are continually engaged in the search for innovative solutions that reduce the cost price of renewables and raise their productivity. And it so happens that Amsterdam is the best location for working in this platform function in the European market.”
Growth industryThe Hanergy Holding Group was founded 17 years ago in Beijing, by its Chairman Li Hejun who perceived a market in the growing interest in clean energy in China and elsewhere. At first it concentrated on setting up hydropower projects, but soon after added wind energy. The breakthrough in wind energy came when Hanergy won a government contract for the development of a wind park of 50 turbines in Jiangsu province.
Nowadays, this company with 1600 employees project manages a number of large wind and water energy projects inside and outside of China. It has extended its portfolio of activities to the production of solar panels and established an international network of branches in Asia, the Pacific region, the US and Europe.
Furthermore, through its subsidiary, Europe China Power, which is also Amsterdam-based, Hanergy is specialising in the setting up of investment vehicles aimed at attracting sufficient capital from European and Chinese investors. One of the outcomes has been setting up the China Renewable Energy Fund, which offers investors the opportunity to participate in mostly Chinese sustainability projects. China Carbon has also seen the light of day. Since then, the Dutch Ministry of Infrastructure and the Environment has been purchasing certificates from this fund to cancel out the environmental damage done by its own car fleet against the yields from Hanergy’s clean energy projects. And large energy producers such as Eneco and Nuon/Vattenfall also make use of this facility to achieve a climate-neutral balance.
It is no coincidence that Hanergy’s European head office is playing a pioneering role in the creation of this kind of innovative tool, believes Li Ming. “We arrived here 10 years ago to get a feel for developments that could be interesting for Hanergy,” he explains, speaking at his company’s reception room on the 16th floor of an office block at the centre of the Dutch capital’s financial district. “There has been a growing awareness in Europe for a while now that we need to accelerate the reduction of our dependence on fossil fuels and transfer to renewable energy sources. It’s partly for this reason that Europe is still the spawning ground for many innovations in the area of sustainability. So of course we want to be where the action is – especially because in China too there are increasing numbers of state and private initiatives in the field of renewable energy provision. What’s more, it’s the perfect location for bringing together Chinese and European parties. The business and taxation climate is ideally suited to an enterprise like this. Investors enjoy special benefits here, Chinese and European parties like doing business under Dutch law and there is a strong local financial sector with a great deal of expertise and knowledge. It’s also an attractive platform for knowledge transfer and for the streamlining of collaborative relationships within Europe.”
Hanergy’s original decision to locate the business in Amsterdam was a well-considered one. Decisive factors included the accessibility of the labour market, the presence of both international investors and the headquarters of large corporations and the traditionally good trading relations between China and the Netherlands. “What clinched it was the mentality of the people here,” says Li Ming, adding “the way people do business here is familiar to the Chinese, and on top of that the average Dutch person has an open mind and is very adept at dealing with other cultures. This is very important if you want to get your feet on the ground in Europe, because culturally speaking it’s as diverse as China. And it’s a breeding ground for innovative solutions in renewable energy. Being located here, we have a fantastic overview of these developments.”
Li Ming was actually already living in the Netherlands when he was asked by Hanergy to take a leading role in the European operation. “In my heart of hearts, I feel half Chinese and half Dutch. And I’m already well integrated in the local networks. For example, together with a number of other Chinese investors in the Netherlands, last year I was invited by the Dutch Minister of Finance Jan Kees de Jager, to exchange thoughts about the local business climate – how do we experience it, and how could it be improved? In many other countries, these doors remain closed.”
Amsterdam-led European network
Hanergy Holding Europe has meanwhile become a brand in the rapidly developing European renewables market. In addition to its head start in developing and offering financial vehicles for securing investment capital for energy projects in China and Europe, Hanergy is hard at work setting up a network of European branches. In the coming year, Amsterdam-led offices will be set up in Italy, the United Kingdom and Bulgaria. Previously, a small company was set up in the Czech Republic for assembling and developing solar panels. And only recently, seeking to bolster its own activities in solar energy, Hanergy expressed an interest in acquiring Helianthos, an inventive Dutch company that has developed an ultra-thin foil that can absorb solar energy.
Although Li Ming is unable to discuss it further before negotiations are complete, he is willing to reveal that Hanergy will continue to use the European head office as the base for searching out new partners and potential acquisitions with comparable boundary breaking concepts or other forms of added value. “In this respect Amsterdam is a very interesting laboratory,” he says. “We can learn from these examples, and in turn we can ensure that the most promising technologies are realised by offering them sufficient scaling.”
All in all, Li Ming is convinced that Hanergy Holding Europe will enjoy strong growth in the coming years – especially if even more Chinese companies follow its example and choose Amsterdam as their European base. “Everybody will profit if the cluster of Chinese companies here expands to become one of the largest in Europe,” he says. “That’s why I take every opportunity to make it clear to my Chinese colleagues that our presence in Amsterdam has given Hanergy a lot of extra energy.”