Bringing Energy to Remotest Corners of the CountryWed, 02/19/2014 - 15:18
According to the National Institute of Geography and Statistics (INEGI), over half a million Mexican households do not have access to electricity. This is mainly due to the remote and scattered location of many communities and the lack of infrastructure development. Arsenio Fernández Velasco, Director General of Energía Renovable del Centro, realized this presented a business opportunity for solar energy systems while searching for electricity solutions for a family home. Looking for companies that provided this service, he found close to none. Soon after, Energía Renovable del Centro was founded in the city of Queretaro with the goal of filling the void in electricity solutions for remote locations through photovoltaic systems. Not long after the company was born, the rise of domestic gas prices enabled it to add solar thermic solutions to its portfolio.
Fernández Velasco sees the company’s survival during difficult financial times as one of its main achievements, especially in the early days when knowledge about the economic benefits of renewable energy was very limited. “Today, people are aware of the environmental and social benefits of renewable energy although its economic benefits remain largely unknown. However, these economic savings are the very reason INFONAVIT made these systems a part of their affordable housing program,” he adds.
Fernández Velasco argues that Mexico has the most expensive DAC (high domestic consumption) tariff in the world. Energía Renovable del Centro promises a return on investment (ROI) of approximately 4 years for its installations. This rises to 4.5 years for commercial rates, which are included in tariff 2 and can go up to 5 years for public lighting installations in tariff 5. The ROI for industrial installations takes longer at 9-10 years, but in Velasco’s experience, the industrial sector tends to shy away from solar power projects due to financial reasons. The company has worked in many residential interconnection projects but the electrification of rural secondary schools that had no access to energy stands out as a firm favorite. “This was a great project as these schools work with televised courses, but they did not have the electricity to power a TV. We provided solar and wind systems to generate basic energy so that these schools could function. This project makes us very proud because it represents what Energía Renovable del Centro is all about. We enabled kids from very poor and isolated locations to get the education they deserve,” Fernández Velasco emphasizes. The company has also been part of projects that brought energy to isolated communities in the Sierra de Queretaro, Sierra de Oaxaca, and Guanajuato.
Solar water heating solutions are also becoming commonplace in the residential sector, appreciated for the savings they give to users on their gas bills. The industrial sector, always keen to reduce costs, is also beginning to eye up the saving opportunities sustainability provides. For example, Energía Renovable del Centro installed the biggest solar thermal system in the Americas at Nestlé’s plant in Toluca, which has the capacity to heat 500,000 liters of water to 32°C a day. As technology progressed while becoming both more accessible and profitable, Energía Renovable del Centro decided on a multi-pronged approach to renewable energy, allowing it to explore separate sectors simultaneously. Fernández Velasco emphasizes that the company’s goal is to always seek the most efficient solution, technologically and financially speaking. In order to be able to continue being a relevant player in the sector, Energía Renovable del Centro seeks to maintain its edge by relying on the best quality equipment from the most reputable manufacturers in the world. “Anyone can import cheap panels from China,” says Fernández Velasco. “But selling the best panels in the world is no easy task. We always use the best technology, striking a balance between quality and quantity. This does not translate to simply looking for the most expensive technology because it might not necessarily be the most efficient or the most cost-effective.”
“It is expected that the solar industry will boom in the next few years,” says Fernández Velasco. “So far, the industry has grown in an organic fashion, without any government support. However, any type of support or incentives from the authorities will provide an impulse for faster growth.” Energía Renovable del Centro is focused on becoming one of the main engineering solution providers of Mexico. Long gone are the days when the company strived to keep afloat. Energía Renovable del Centro is now dealing with the challenges of exponential growth. With client satisfaction always in mind, its constant focus is on maintaining quality and timely delivery for its projects. Aware that any company is only as good as the people within it, Fernández Velasco says “our primary concern is human talent. We invest in our people with training courses, so as to be fully prepared for what is coming.”