A Private Company's Road to Internationalization
By staff reporter ZHANG XUEYING
IN February 2012, during Chinese Vice President Xi Jinping's visit to the U.S., the two countries signed a whopping 149 contracts and cooperation agreements worth a total US $38.6 billion. China's biggest private new energy company ENN Group's US $5 billion deal stood out as particularly impressive.
Different from a technical cooperation project they signed last year, the deal will see ENN invest US $5 billion in the coming 10 years to build a clean energy ecological center in Nevada, the U.S., which will mainly feature a photovoltaic power plant, a photovoltaic component factory and the development of a future energy eco-city.
"After several years of preparation, it's time for ENN to explore overseas investment that will not only contribute to the group's industrial chain and expansion, but also be of strategic significance to its transnational operation," said Wang Yusuo, chairman of the board of ENN Group,
Relying on Technology to Go Global
ENN's investment in the US is a landmark in China's new energy field, starting the ball rolling for Chinese new energy companies to export domestically developed technology. As Vice President Xi Jinping pointed out, this is a big step. "During the past 30 years or so, with China's reform and opening-up and modernization drive, the traditional model in which the U.S. provides funds and technology and China provides labor, resources and a market has changed fundamentally," Xi said.
With total assets of over RMB 40 billion, ENN owns more than 100 subsidiary companies and branches in China, the U.S. and Europe, but when Wang Yusuo founded the enterprise some 20 years ago, it was just a small company selling liquefied gas. As it grew, ENN began to provide urban areas with public gas services. Today, the company has become an influential player, shaping a coordinated industrial energy distribution network and the development of chemical, solar and smart energy.
During global energy shortages in 2004, when energy security and environmental conservation became widely discussed topics, ENN decided to enter the field of clean coal and seek alternative energy. Later it became involved in solar power, and invested in building an industrial chain for producing clean energy.
It was with these ventures that ENN distinguished itself globally. Back in July 2009, U.S. Energy Secretary Steven Chu made his sole visit to a clean energy company during his trip to China, when he toured ENN's headquarters in Langfang, Hebei Province, bringing the group out of relative international obscurity and into the limelight. Impressed with their "zero-emission" coal-derived energy test center and photovoltaic solar cell production line, Chu praised the group's research and development of clean energy, encouraging their future endeavors and expressing hope that the U.S. and China strengthen exchange and collaborative promotion of related technologies.
ENN's motto is all about adapting to prevailing conditions. "Only by integrating its strategy with national strategy can an enterprise reach a large market; only by merging its scientific and technological development with the global trend of development can it attain sustainable development." Gan Zhongxue, vice chairman of ENN Group and CEO of ENN Smart Energy, has been an important player in the group's exploration of international markets.
Gan started his career at ABB Research Center North America and rose to the position of technical director and chief scientist in the automation department. In 2003, he returned to China with seven other researchers and joined ENN. He was involved in the establishment of ENN Science and Technology Development in 2006, which set up a postdoctoral scientific research center specializing in new energy technology. After several years of development, ENN now employs a high-end technology team consisting of 100 PhDs and 600 MAs.
Thanks to this team, ENN has produced many practical additions to clean energy technology. At present, ENN Science and Technology has applied for over 270 patents and formed two clean energy processes, namely its coal-derived low carbon energy conversion and smart energy network. ENN harnesses these new technologies to provide integrated solutions to energy distribution, energy chemicals, solar energy, biomass energy and clean energy. ENN's industrial scale demonstrations of technologies, such as underground coal gasification and microalgae carbon absorption, have been launched in Inner Mongolia Autonomous Region.
It is this kind of advanced technology that has boosted ENN's globalization efforts. In 2009, ENN began cooperation with foreign scientific research institutions, including the National Energy Technology Laboratory and the National Renewable Energy Laboratory in the U.S., which entered into joint research in catalytic coal gasification and microalgae carbon sequestration with ENN.
More notably, ENN has put forward the concept of "cycling economy & intellectualization." According to ENN, to fully solve the energy problem, foremost is establishing a brand new system of energy production covering production, application, storage and transport, and recycling. The group uses advanced methods in the production, systematic use and smart management of clean energy to maximize efficiency and steer the energy industry towards low-carbon and cycling economy. This concept has been recognized across the global energy industry, and has prompted Guido Bartels, chairman of Global Smart Grid Federation, to remark, "Ideas about energy from China are leading the world."