UPDATE 1-Vietnam's TTC to launch three solar projects in first half 2018

(Add further details, background)

HO CHI MINH CITY, Dec 19 (Reuters) - Vietnamese conglomerate TTC Corp expects to start construction work on the country’s first three solar power projects in the first half of 2018, its chairman said on Tuesday.

Vietnam has been mostly reliant on coal-fired and hydro power plants to meet demand for electrical energy, which is growing at around 11 percent a year, but wants to boost its renewable energy output.

“Investing in renewable energy is truly a very great opportunity as Vietnam is close to the equator, so the (solar) radiation is good, and we also have a more than 3,600-km long coastline,” TTC’s chairman Dang Van Thanh told Reuters in an interview.

The three projects in central and southern provinces of Vietnam will have a total capacity of around 150 megawatts (MW), with a combined investment of about 3 trillion dong ($132 million), Thanh said.

He expects construction on two of the projects in central Thua Thien Hue province and the Central Highlands province of Gia Lai to start in the first quarter of 2018, while work could get underway on the other project in Tay Ninh province in the second quarter.

TTC has a long-term plan for renewable energy, aiming to bring its overall capacity from solar power plants to 600 to 700 MW by 2020 and to 1,000 MW by 2025 when total invest would sum up to around $1 billion.

The company has signed a strategic partnership with Armstrong South East Asia Clean Energy Fund and the International Financial Corporation (IFC), which have a combined 36 percent ownership in TTC’s energy unit.

The partnership with Armstrong, one of Southeast Asia’s biggest renewable energy developers and asset managers of $164 million in commitments, marks a significant step for Vietnam, which is seen to have much potential in this sector but so far has fallen short behind other countries in the region, especially Thailand.

Earlier this year Vietnam’s Daklak province granted licences and signed memorandums of understanding for the development of several solar power projects, separate from TTC’s, worth a combined $3.3 billion.

“Technology and equipments about a decade ago were not approachable (for Vietnam) but now their prices have fallen to an acceptable level for Vietnam,” Thanh said.

“Clean energy is the inevitable trend.”

Thanh said TTC is open to investing in solar power projects overseas, potentially in Laos. ($1 = 22,713 dong) (Reporting by Mai Nguyen; Editing by Louise Heavens, Greg Mahlich)