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Takaoka: Boasting close to 50 years of experience in power infrastructure.

Interview - December 8, 2023

Founded in 1975, Takaoka Engineering specializes in construction of power infrastructure facilities on EPC basis (engineering, civil and building work, and procurement, transportation and installation of equipment).

AKIHIKO ICHIKAWA, PRESIDENT OF TAKAOKA ENGINEERING CO., LTD.
AKIHIKO ICHIKAWA | PRESIDENT OF TAKAOKA ENGINEERING CO., LTD.

Could you please introduce us to your company?

Takaoka Engineering & Construction Co., Ltd. was established in 1975 as a subsidiary of Takaoka Electric Mfg. Co., Ltd. (presently known as Takaoka Toko Co., Ltd.), and changed its name to Takaoka Engineering Co., Ltd. in 1990 to aim at further development of international business. 

Takaoka Engineering operates across four distinct business segments: 1) Main power plant fields for generation plants (diesel and gas), substations, transmission lines, and distribution lines. 2) Renewable energy fields (solar power generation plants, power storage systems, EMS, and small hydropower generation plants). 3) Varied electrical operations with a focus on water treatment and sewage systems. 4) Metal resources recycling business.

Our global influence stretches over 50 countries, encompassing roughly 150 engineering projects throughout Africa, Asia (including Central Asia), the South Pacific, and Latin America. This year alone, we have expanded our reach into six new countries. Our commitment to excellence has garnered us significant international commendations and accolades.

 

Can you outline the history of your activities in Africa?

Takaoka Engineering has a storied history of infrastructural developments across the African continent. Our first engagement in Africa can be traced back to Tanzania in the 1980s, a period heavily influenced by socialism. In 1986, we embarked on our initial project in the country. Since then, we've successfully led and completed four major projects in Tanzania, all under the EPC (Engineering, Procurement, and Construction) framework.

Fast forward to the 2000s, our expertise was called upon in West African nations, notably Sierra Leone and Liberia, which were both grappling with the repercussions of civil unrest. The infrastructural fabric, especially their power grid, was on the verge of disintegration. Recognizing the imperative need, the Government of Japan decided to support the rehabilitation of the power sector.

Takaoka Engineering stepped in to revitalize the powerline infrastructure, a critical element in their national resurgence. In Sierra Leone, our projects ranged from the inception of a diesel power plant to laying out distribution lines. Similarly, in Liberia, we played a key role in the establishment of a diesel power plant.

However, our commitments in these nations were tested severely during the devastating Ebola outbreak. This health crisis significantly stalled our projects, making their eventual realization a monumental challenge. At one stage, construction work came to a complete standstill, necessitating the replacement and repair of machinery that had deteriorated. Such experiences underscore the intricate challenges we sometimes encounter while undertaking construction ventures in developing and emerging countries.

With the invaluable support of the Japanese government and JICA (Japan International Cooperation Agency) and the endorsement from local governments, we, Takaoka Engineering, have been steadfast in our commitment to complete these projects. We take immense pride in our contributions to the economic revitalization of Sierra Leone and Liberia.

In addition to these, we have ventured into Rwanda, a country that has displayed remarkable economic resilience since the 2000s, emerging from the shadows of a genocide to reconstruct its economy with vigor. It's noteworthy to mention that Japan has been instrumental in backing three major construction endeavors in the power sector in Rwanda, executed in the years 2014, 2018, and 2022. In Rwanda, we embarked on another remarkable venture in 2022. We completed a project to construct 8 substations in Kigali financed by the World Bank group. It's worth emphasizing that the entirety of this venture was orchestrated in collaboration with international partners.

Moreover, our footprint extends to power installation projects in Malawi and two other significant ventures in Africa as of March 2023. These prestigious projects are the rehabilitation and expansion project of the significant substation in Lagos, Nigeria, and the rehabilitation project of the hydropower plant in Lesotho.

 

A significant hurdle encountered in overseas construction projects of this nature is the lack of training within the local workforce. Frequently, when companies initiate the establishment of power plants and subsequently depart, the local workforce remains inadequately equipped with the essential skill set necessary for the maintenance and repair of these facilities in the event of equipment malfunctions. How do you ensure that your projects have long-term sustainability after your departure?

During the implementation of projects, we always aim to foster a technical transfer, thereby bolstering the capabilities of the local partner companies.  Once the warranty period concludes, should there be any complications, these local companies might take the initiative to liaise directly with clients. And taking opportunities during factory inspection, on-site meetings, and training, we are paying full attention to knowledge and experience sharing with clients. We try to shepherd our clients through each procedural step, right from the assembly to exhaustive testing and final inspection. Central to our operational ethos is the principle of technical transfer, which we regard as quintessential for ensuring enduring sustainability.



The strategic approach of the Japanese government is marked by a strong focus on fostering collaboration with local stakeholders, nurturing capacity development, and facilitating the transfer of knowledge. Can you comment on how you are harmonizing with the direction of the Japanese government?

Our projects predominantly entail collaborations rooted in Japanese expertise. Assessing the support rendered by the Japanese government, it is apparent that their contributions are multifaceted. Sometimes, this support materializes in the form of comprehensive master plans and detailed designs of important projects in the power sector. At other junctures, Japan provides grant and loan assistance directly to beneficiary nations. Furthermore, there are specialized channels of technical cooperation, often extending over a 2 to 3-year period. This is especially evident in our power generation initiatives in countries like Liberia and Sierra Leone. It's worth emphasizing that Japan's dedication to technical cooperation is still very much active in Sierra Leone.

From our vantage as a private entity, our mission pivots on the effective dissemination of our technological prowess and the wealth of experiences we've amassed over the years to our global partners. However, being a private establishment also necessitates that we consider the support packages offered by the Japanese government. This dual consideration shapes our modus operandi, ensuring we strike a harmonious balance between technological partnerships and sustainable business pursuits.

 

In the digital era, internet accessibility has evolved into an almost fundamental human entitlement. This connectivity serves as a pivotal conduit for job opportunities, education, and the exchange of information. Unfortunately, rural areas in developing economies often lack the necessary infrastructure to roll out advanced networks. How can this issue be addressed?

Africa, especially its eastern regions, is home to several significant hydropower initiatives. These projects might play a vital role in creating a unified network for power production and distribution across the continent through international power connectivity. Nevertheless, it's essential to recognize that certain parts of Africa continue to grapple with insufficient power, resulting in notable electricity deficits.  Now people are increasingly recognizing the overarching impact of electricity on every aspect of daily life and economic development. A lack of power not only disrupts train or air travel but also impedes access to vital services such as water treatment plants, educational institutions, and medical facilities. The growing awareness of the criticality of prioritizing improvements and innovation in the power sector plays a pivotal role. It is true that in the digital era, internet accessibility has evolved into an almost fundamental human entitlement in the digital era, and electricity supply is the essential backbone.  Without a consistent power supply, facilitating remote communication becomes increasingly challenging. The accessibility of power and electricity is pivotal in defining the disparities in the quality of life among various populations. This connectivity serves as a pivotal conduit for job opportunities, education, and the exchange of information. Unfortunately, rural areas in developing economies often lack the necessary infrastructure to roll out advanced networks.  This focus is instrumental in driving cost efficiencies across a spectrum of economic endeavors, elevating the overall quality of life. Such an informed perspective is the catalyst for sustained progress. The emphasis on electricity has become even more pronounced.                               

One of the primary challenges we face in Africa pertains to power generation and the limited availability of reliable power sources. A subsequent challenge is extending electricity to rural areas, a task made daunting due to the significant expenses tied to the establishment of transmission and distribution networks. It becomes essential to envision a strategy that brings the vast landscape of Africa under a unified power framework.

As we look to the future, the twin domains of power generation and distribution are set to integrate more seamlessly. Yet, meeting the unique demands of rural communities requires holistic solutions, potentially leveraging solar energy, mini-hydro setups, and microgrid systems. An integral component of this strategy is the identification of viable financing avenues tailored to these regions. It's noteworthy that the concept of microgrid businesses is witnessing growing traction among private-sector players. In this context, the synergy between public sector funding and private enterprise investments might become crucial.

 

Looking at the future, how do you envision the growth of Takaoka Engineering?

As a proud member of the Toko Takaoka Group, Takaoka Engineering stands as a wholly-owned subsidiary. In line with the Group's Vision 2030, we are trying to be at the forefront of cultivating international partnerships and spearheading overseas projects. By 2030, our positive ambition is to transform into an all-encompassing solution hub in the power sector, catering to every facet of power-centric initiatives.

Central to our growth trajectory is the vision to expand the horizons of our four primary business sectors, ensuring continuous and holistic growth across each domain. We remain steadfast in our commitment to elevate our core business areas, which include substations, transmission line construction, distribution lines, and the inception of diesel and gas power plants. Together, these sectors form the foundational pillars of our organization, a legacy we've painstakingly built over decades.

In the renewable energy landscape, our portfolio is diverse. We've embarked on projects such as the installation of solar power plants in distinctive locales, including the Galapagos Islands, Malawi and Kiribati. Our expertise also spans the development of battery storage solutions and the sphere of energy management systems.

As part of our global footprint, Takaoka Engineering has actively spearheaded numerous small hydropower plant projects in diverse regions, including Cambodia, Honduras and Vanuatu.  Now we are implementing similar projects in Lesotho and Vanuatu.

While our track record boasts consistent achievements in small-scale endeavors, our unique value proposition lies in our capacity to undertake a broad range of projects. Our hallmark is the comprehensive suite of services we offer, an aspect that distinguishes us from our counterparts and solidifies our competitive edge.

A core pillar of Takaoka Engineering's growth blueprint is the assertive expansion of our key business sectors. Complementing this, we are vigorously working to consolidate our footprint in international terrains. Initially, our gaze is firmly set on the African continent, with Asia including Central Asia slated as our subsequent market. The South Pacific Islands also figure prominently as our third key geographical focus.

A critical point of our strategy is the diversification of the financial underpinnings of projects. We are intent on broadening our horizons to encompass our future projects with various financial support.

Lastly, a cornerstone of our growth strategy is the augmentation of our global consortium. This entails not just the strengthening and expansion of our existing affiliations, but also the proactive establishment of fresh synergies with potential partners. This concerted effort aims to sharpen our edge in the fiercely competitive arena of international project bids.

 

Can you run us through your international strategy?

Takaoka Engineering proudly collaborates with over 50 countries, executing projects across approximately 150 distinct locations. Just within the past year, we've undertaken ambitious initiatives in countries including Nigeria, Lesotho, Malawi, and Uganda. Across the African continent, we've sealed contractual partnerships in over 10 nations, often initiating multiple projects within each. Moreover, our global outreach is ever-expanding, with fresh engagements in countries such as Cuba and Laos.

Drawing upon decades of industry expertise and a vast collaborative network, our unwavering commitment is to champion economic revitalization and societal upliftment in many developing and emerging nations. Our strategic emphasis is directed towards regions including Africa, Asian regions including Central Asia, and the South Pacific Islands.

We ardently recognize the immeasurable importance of fortifying power infrastructure across nations at different developmental stages. Our efforts are not confined to merely tangible infrastructure but also extend to intangibles like knowledge transfer, software, and proficiency development. Our comprehensive approach contributes significantly to bolstering the economic backbone of nations, ensuring that critical institutions — from government hubs and industrial plants to communication nodes and educational centers — operate seamlessly.

But our mission extends beyond macro-impact; it delves deep into the fabric of everyday life. These projects, which Takaoka Engineering was involved in, empower households, schools, medical facilities, retail hubs, commercial spaces, water purification systems, and myriad other vital installations. The breadth and depth of our influence is still a profound sense of pride and purpose in every Takaoka Engineering team member.

Against this backdrop, our operations at Takaoka Engineering are marked by an intense awareness of the role we play in provisioning a society's fundamental power needs. We are driven by a profound sense of responsibility. The critical nature of our work necessitates that we execute our tasks with unwavering commitment and precision.

Recent global events have further emphasized the paramount importance of strengthening our international collaborative partnerships. Alongside this, diversifying the financial resources projects has become even more critical. These strategic steps are essential for buffering the potential impacts of unforeseen challenges, ensuring we remain resilient and effective amidst evolving global circumstances.

To better position ourselves within the global community, we must deepen our understanding of Japan's role and stance in international cooperation. This includes familiarizing ourselves with Japan's economic blueprints, such as the Indian and Pacific Ocean strategy that champions an open trade network. Moreover, aligning with Japan's directives on carbon neutrality and fervently promoting renewable energy solutions reflects our dedication to furthering Japan's international aspirations.

Our perspective on forging international partnerships is undergoing a transformation. Historically, we championed an "All Japan" approach, which primarily emphasized extensive Japanese participation. Yet, our evolving strategy leans towards a "core Japan" model. Here, while Japan remains central to the alliance's leadership and ethos, it doesn't necessarily dominate all facets. Our aim is to take the lead and act as the fulcrum of these alliances, cultivating global collaboration with companies from diverse nations.

In line with our commitment to leveraging our decades-long expertise and the cutting-edge capabilities of Japanese technology, we are evolving to enhance our global competitive edge. Our vision is to synchronize seamlessly with international counterparts, positioning ourselves as a prime global partner. One of our challenges to achieve our vision is the further development of a resilient and diversified material procurement system, underscoring our drive to maintain a vibrant and collaborative global presence.

A hallmark of our projects is the consistent emphasis on imparting technical expertise and hands-on knowledge to our clients and collaborative partners. This focus extends throughout the project implementation. We understand that trustworthy collaboration and co-creation are the most essential keys to the evergreen success of projects.

We are proud to contribute to the improvement of social infrastructure and economic development for the benefit of people of emerging countries. Taking full advantage of its technological strength and extensive experience in collaboration with its business partners, we are committed to responding to the strong demand for electricity and diversifying social values in developing and emerging countries, and we shall remain fully dedicated to contributing to the promotion of SDGs.

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