Markus Rieder
Fronius Mexico
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Insight

Energy Efficient Solar Electronics Made in Germany

Wed, 02/19/2014 - 14:59

FIDE, the Electrical Energy Savings Trust, was created over 20 years ago to foster energy savings and energy efficiency, as well as to support new technologies and the development of a sustainable energy culture. Since its creation in 1990, it has provided over 2.5 million credits to the residential sector. During 2012, 530 companies benefited from its credits to replace existing equipment with newer energy efficient technology, resulting in electricity consumption savings of 1,996GWh, as well as preventing the emission of over 1 million tonnes of C02 into the atmosphere.

In October 2013, Fronius, the Austrian manufacturer of battery charging systems, welding technology and solar electronics, which has been present in Mexico for over 30 years, obtained the FIDE seal for its Fronius IG and IG Plus V invertors, an acknowledgement of their energy efficient performance. Despite the company having been present in Mexico for so long, it did not open a local office until 2007. “Because of the market’s potential, we started with the welding technology division,” recalls Markus Rieder, Managing Director of Fronius Mexico. “Later on, we spotted potential in the solar business when CRE authorized the on-grid market. We were able to react quickly with our existing infrastructure, so in 2010 the solar electronics division began operating in Mexico.”

In just three years, the company has acquired a leading position as an inverter manufacturer in Mexico, which has yielded positive results, such as the FIDE recognition. Because this equipment transforms direct current collected through solar modules into alternating current, it is essential for solar power systems to deliver energy. Rieder explains that Fronius’ inverters adapt very well to the extreme environmental conditions found in certain parts of Mexico, especially in the north where Fronius inverters work at peak efficiency during sweltering heat for “so much longer than our competitors.” One of Fronius’ interesting designs for the Mexican market is its MIXTM concept, which allows PV systems to generate energy even during cloudy conditions at maximum efficiency. In Fronius inverters, such as the IG Plus, up to six power modules work together. Depending on the level of utilization, these can either function simultaneously or operate individually when called upon. If one module fails, the others can continue functioning. A central processor 

determines which power stage has had the least amount of operating hours and assigns it to take the main load, keeping an equal balance on component wear. IG Plus inverters have a ventilation system that keeps dust and moisture away, which comes in handy in Mexico’s northern states. Cold air is fed to a cooling element through a hermetically sealed venting duct, keeping the PC boards intact. The system is kept cool, ensuring its long-term working life.

“It is important not to look for the cheapest solution, but rather to put the focus on the service level in Mexico,” Rieder claims. “As in the long-term, the development of solar power projects always entail maintenance and services. Quality is extremely important in Mexico. The distances to travel are great, meaning it takes a long time for repairs to be undertaken. Our high quality inverters ensure maximum energy production and minimum service requirements. A system can cost you half the price, but if it does not work properly then it will not be able to deliver energy,” Rieder says.

Fronius has collaborated on projects with Mexican federal institutions, works across private industry, and is heavily involved in the residential sector as well as in the commercial sector. Rieder views the Mexican solar industry as being at a very early stage, at which most people still do not realize the extent of the economic benefits they can acquire. The lack of information and experience has been one of the most significant challenges the company has encountered, compelling it to adjust its operational strategy to offer continuous training for the local market. On the other hand, a lot of installers have just entered the market and need technical support with inverter installation. Another issue that could be attributed to the fact that the market is still young is the difficulty of finding or applying international best practices, due to the absence of feed-in tariffs. “When a market is as young as Mexico’s, we have to offer even more services and support, because installers are not completely independent yet. For this reason, Fronius strives to offer greater services, making this the foundation of our success,” Rieder says. In his opinion, the market will definitely experience growth, though likely not as quickly as Europe did. “Mexico lacks financial instruments and direct government incentives for the PV market. Regardless of the state of the market, Fronius’ strategy is focused on furthering the company’s heavy involvement in residential and small utility projects, while continuing to tap its international experience in providing industrial solar power installations,” he adds. Having FIDE’s seal of approval is one of many different elements that prove this.

Although SMA is not interested in developing storage on its own, the company understands its importance. This is why SMA’s second R&D priority is precisely storage as a tool to be able to use electricity in more efficient ways. When setting up systems, the company considers with its clients which precise storage and battery solutions are best for them and, of course, how to optimally connect them to the inverter.

With more than 30 years of experience and 30GW installed around the world, SMA has plans to keep growing in both its product portfolio and the markets it has presence in. As part of its expansion strategy, Mexico has become an interesting market for SMA to introduce its products and services. “Mexico has everything to be a great solar market: solar irradiation, growing economy and important many efforts toward that goal being a reality for its solar equipment.

“The Mexican solar market is developing positively and rapidly. SMA expects to soon announce its plan to fully enter the local market, aiming to become leaders here as they have in more than 20 other countries,” states Götz. The company knows that to provide the best option in terms of quality, technological issues, service and grid management, it must make sure each of these areas is worked on optimally within its operations. That is why SMA is already working with Mexican firms and CFE in order to quickly advance on its Mexican learning curve and position itself in the market. “People know SMA is cooperating with them and, for us, this may be one of our biggest achievements,” concludes Götz.