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Carlos Walls, Director General of solar panel manufacturer SolarAct, sees solar technology currently being divided into two areas, grid- connected and off-grid systems. SolarAct has focused on the latter, which the firm classifies as the fastest growing market in Mexico. The decision to concentrate on this area was also motivated by the delay usually involved in connecting a PV system to the grid. “Given that CFE often needs six months or more to connect a PV system to the grid, off-grid systems present a major opportunity. They may not be the most efficient, but they cover specific needs and provide a quick solution when power from the grid is unavailable or too costly, such as in remote communities,” says Walls. Its experience in rural communities has also allowed SolarAct to identify another area of opportunity: solar-powered street lighting. Walls explains that developing this market could help bring safety to traditionally unsafe areas such as town squares, playgrounds and sports fields that are often poorly illuminated due to the lack of a grid connection.
Walls is confident that SolarAct’s panels have the quality to compete with the best international brands and can sell at prices that match the offerings from the Chinese, Japanese and Korean manufacturers. However, he acknowledges that international awareness about Mexican solar panel manufacturing could be improved. “To spark the use of Mexican panels in the US and across Latin America, we need to first address the insufficient manufacturing capacity. Several Mexican companies, besides SolarAct, are finding investors that are willing to take chances in Mexico and produce high-quality products at competitive prices. The other issue is that the peripheral components of PV systems are not being manufactured in the country at the moment. To create a vertically integrated Mexican supply chain, it is crucial for the country to develop these systems at home, since reducing dependency on imported technologies would lead to more opportunities for Mexican companies in markets across Latin America,” he says. “SolarAct is ahead of the game on this and is constantly looking for markets to which we can export our products.”
Alongside solar panels, SolarAct has also spotted the potential of energy efficient lighting, such as LED. Walls acknowledges that the initial investment in LED lighting is high but promises that returns on investment become tangible after three to four years of the decade that LED light bulbs can last. But as the enthusiasm for LED lighting has grown in Mexico, Walls laments that the market has been flooded with LED bulbs that do not comply with international quality standards, although the government is taking action. “SENER Norm 031 was just approved, and suppliers who want to use LED technology for public street lighting will have to comply with this norm.”