German Leader Banks on Mexican Inverter MarketWed, 02/19/2014 - 14:57
According to Thomas Götz, Sales Vice President at SMA Solar Technology (SMA), “photovoltaic technology has reached a development stage where it can generate electricity at comparative costs as natural gas, wind, coal, and other types of energy.” Currently, the opportunities for the sector tend to be more oriented toward large-scale projects that are suitable for the self-supply scheme. Clients are often searching for one-stop shops that offer them all the services and solutions they require. Therefore, a company that is able to offer the whole package from generation activities to power transmission will stand to benefit. German manufacturer SMA believes it is one of the few competitors in the market that can fit that description. SMA has an advantage in the Mexican market in that it develops, produces and sells its own PV inverters, for applications ranging from small residential projects to large-scale plants. In Götz’s perspective, providing integrated solutions helps clients ensure greater efficiency and reliability, twin goals which are at the core of any energy project. Götz says SMA is able to maximize the return and the cash flow for its clients as well as minimize the risk involved in investing in a solar project, especially in large-scale power plants with long operating life cycles. For all that it has expanded toward a vertically integrated model, SMA still has over 1,000 people working in its German research and development department in order to improve the quality and technology of its main product: inverters.
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 demand for electricity,” says Götz. Furthermore, indicators as Gauss Energía’s 30MW Aura Solar I and the presence of financers, banks and investors willing to invest here, show that the Mexican solar market is taking off and becoming more attractive to global players. However, Götz still recognizes there is a long way to go. Although interest in solar energy and renewable sources in general has been growing, some technical aspects remain to be addressed. The company sees the inverter as the difference between having performing or distressed assets, which should be of crucial importance to anyone interested in investing in a solar project.
In emerging markets, such as Mexico, the grid code evolves in a peculiar way. Initially the grid is developed for relatively low amounts of energy, but this will increase due to the development of industries and urban areas. The power plants connected to the grid have a lifecycle of 20 to 25 years and they have to be able to provide quality over the long-term, while maintaining high efficiency ratios. This poses a unique challenge for companies that design and produce equipment used in power plants as their products, once installed, will need to be future-proof. This means all the equipment requires a lifecycle that emulates that of power plants and can adapt to future needs. Of course, no one can guarantee that the products are going to reach this future-proof status, but Götz says SMA is focusing 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.