Ana Violeta Horta
Chief Administrative Officer
CISA Energía
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View from the Top

Early Promoters of Mexico’s Wind Potential

Wed, 02/19/2014 - 11:35

Q: What motivated CISA Energía to start promoting renewable energy sources?

A: We began looking at renewable energy more than 10 years ago at a time when Mexico had little to no renewable projects. Our founder, David Horta, carried out wind measurements in different parts of Mexico and came across the La Ventosa site in Oaxaca. At the time, CFE was developing small wind plants there, in partnership with Vestas, but they were nowhere near using the site’s full capacity. We started contacting different companies to find partners with the knowhow to develop wind energy projects. At first, Gamesa was very skeptical that Mexico had great wind energy potential, but they changed their minds when they saw the wind measurements. At the time, there was no legal framework for companies to start their own wind farms. The market has since come a long way.

Since the electrical construction industry has not grown majorly, wind energy has allowed us to create a successful new business line, with new clients and new technology. Since we started developing our own wind farms, we have also seen potential growth in their operation and maintenance. Those areas could be a big focus for us in the future. On a broader scale, the biggest challenge we have had to overcome has been the level of support from the government. If we look at how the wind energy sector has skyrocketed in the US and Europe, it comes down to government support and tax benefits. We have to take those examples and adapt them to the Mexican culture. Once the government here decides to help the wind industry, it could take off as it did in the US. Over the next five years, we are seeking to develop around 450MW of installed capacity in different parts of Mexico across wind, solar and hydropower.

Q: What is the nature of your partnerships with industry leaders such as Gamesa and Sempra?

A: We helped Gamesa by scouting for land, by carrying out wind measurements and by securing all the permits. We played a very hands-on role to provide added value for Gamesa. For Sempra, we provided mostly electrical construction services, in which we applied the knowhow we gained from working with Gamesa. Our knowledge Company. “ERICO started out in the railway sector by supplying electrical continuity for railroads and their safety signs, a market in which we still participate, and we later developed the exothermic welding procedure,” explains Ernesto Díaz Lozano, Director of ERICO Latin America. “ERICO is renowned as a leader in product innovation. We set the bar for lightning and surge protection, grounding systems and other product lines.” The company’s expertise in providing protection for electrical systems is particularly valuable for Mexico’s wind farms, because wind generators are vulnerable to damage from thunderstorms. ERICO has developed a protection system that is installed inside the turbine’s blades, which have the highest impact risk as they are the tallest points in an open field, with receptors placed in the parts of the turbine that are most likely to be hit by a lightning strike. “We protect turbines by using internally connected receivers that pass the power through the rotor to the grounding system. This design has been tested in laboratories owned by the blade manufacturers,” Díaz Lozano explains.

Given the damage that lightning can cause when it strikes a wind turbine, having effective lightning protection systems installed is crucial to ensuring the continued operation of a wind park. “Unfortunately there is no way of predicting the exact point at which lightning will strike,” says Díaz has become a service, which we offer right alongside our engineering and our human capital.

Q: What measures are needed to guarantee a steady demand for wind capacity in the future?

A: Wind power will keep becoming more efficient. New technologies will make it more competitive compared to other forms of energy. More government support would be a big help as well, while the expansion of public consciousness about the benefits of wind energy could be huge. Originally, the public was very skeptical when we started selling the idea of wind power. But right now, people are beginning to adapt and to realize that clean energy can be a reality in Mexico.

Q: Natural gas will play a vital role in the Mexican energy market for the foreseeable future. How will that affect CISA Energía’s activities in renewable energy?

A: That will depend on how we develop our future business plans as we are very open to new markets. We are focused on wind right now as it is increasingly cost-competitive and it fits into our motivation to develop clean energy. We have not developed any natural gas projects so far, but if it made economic sense then we could likely use it in combination with other forms of energy. We have invested in gas turbines already but they are not in operation as the prices for natural gas were volatile in the past.

Q: What are the benefits that CISA Energía enjoys from being based in Baja California, where the grid is separate from the Mexican grid but is connected with California?

A: On the construction side, we built a very large transmission line that connects California to Mexico. We will also be doing the construction for another wind farm here to export energy to California. While this is an advantage based on our geographic position, we are focused on all of Mexico. We have an office in Mexico City, and we have representatives developing projects nationwide. In this day and age, it is not about where you are geographically. Our nationwide presence and our international experience is a bigger advantage than simply being based in Baja California. We are a Mexican electrical construction company that promotes its own projects.