Vladimir Ruiz
SE Director Mexico and Central America
Fronius
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Green Hydrogen: The Future of Hybrid Solar Solutions

By Cas Biekmann | Mon, 01/10/2022 - 12:14

Q: How are the pandemic and the government’s policy direction affecting demand for Fronius’ solutions?

A: We want to achieve a global reduction in emissions and are committed to global sustainability, that is our company’s vision. Our products aim to make this happen. We are not only present in the solar industry but also in welding equipment and electric vehicle (EV) charging stations for the automotive sector. The company has been involved in this area since we opened our Mexico City office in 2006. We installed our first inverter in 2008, so we have a history in Mexico that dates to before the 2014 Energy Reform.

In Mexico, utility-scale projects have pretty much stopped entirely but this is not a major issue for Fronius because we are not involved in massive, centralized energy projects. It makes little sense to produce power in one area if you need to transmit it over vast distances and lose a great deal of energy in the process. Utility scale might be a business with vast quantities of money involved but if transmission is a problem, then it makes more sense to produce power via distributed generation (DG). Therefore, we provide products for decentralized DG applications as our core business. If people can have a figurative money factory on their own roof, then why not use it? As DG continues to grow, our business has not been affected by the cancellations of large, private project developments.

 

Q: Inverters are becoming a more competitive business. How has the company been working to set its solutions apart?

A: Fronius has been working to integrate battery storage for years. Though, in all honesty, the company does not fully believe in lead- or lithium-based battery storage since they are not considered an optimal solution for the long term, although they can overcome today’s problems of intermittency in solar generation to be fully competitive with other energy sources. Even without storage, solar is already ideal for peak shaving or load shifting. Fronius offers mostly grid-tied solutions. All inverters communicate openly with several brands outside of the Fronius sphere, even with energy solutions that are not solar-based at all, such as diesel or natural gas.

In the past decade, we have been focusing more on green hydrogen. We have a solution called SolHub, which produces hydrogen as an electrolyzer using solar energy. This hydrogen can then be re-used by various vehicles, such as the public buses in Austria. We are betting on hydrogen because it is an abundant potential resource, just like silicon.

 

Q: What is the biggest issue holding back Mexico’s energy transition from a technological viewpoint?

A: The country has many opportunities to improve its energy efficiency, an issue that needs to be dealt with before the country begins looking toward the latest technologies. Another problem in Mexico is that of installation, which fails at times. In general, technology is improving but Mexico still needs to work to adapt its technology.

Training is another challenge, particularly in the DG environment. Since utility-scale development has stopped, many large-scale developers and EPCs have stepped down to the medium and low-voltage work surrounding DG projects. Fronius does not need to provide explanations to these companies that have worked in a more complex area and can adapt easily. The issue is that many companies are entering the DG market without proper training and know-how. In these cases, Fronius can support these companies with its knowledge and experience to foster a more knowledgeable Mexican energy sector.

 

Q: How cost-efficient is this technology for a medium-income family?

A: If your consumption is low, you tend to pay less in Mexico. The opposite is true as well, so many solar companies tend to focus on larger energy users. Nevertheless, even though solar panel costs have gone up as a result of scarcity, people have the opportunity to contribute to a higher level of energy security even if they do not consume much energy. Other energy sources, such as fossil fuels, will also experience higher costs. The sun is already there, so we can utilize solar energy. Small consumers might only need one solar panel but this will translate to energy savings and to lower amounts of stress on the grid.

 

Q: How does the company add value through the longevity of its products?

A: Our technology is more focused on central inverters than on string inverters, ranging from 4Kw up to 20 to 24Kw. We have technical features integrated in our inverters that allow them to provide more energy while resolving issues more easily. One of our company’s added values is that we provide future-proof products. Integrating future functionalities is possible later because we thought about them years ago. We have working products that are older than 20 years but still address problems with our local teams.

If something changes in the regulation, our solutions are flexible and can be adapted to new norms and standards without having to be replaced entirely. They can be adapted with other solutions. Some of the inverters we sold 10 years ago can now be integrated with battery storage, for instance, which was not that popular at that time. We think about the changes that could occur in the future and concentrate on adding something to the mix to address that.

 

Q: How do you expect demand for DG-based solar solutions to develop over 2022?

A: The government’s plans for the energy sector have stopped DG development to some extent, mostly because it has generated uncertainty. For the government, companies working in DG can add value to a state-centered energy transition as well. Solar can ease the stress on CFE, especially in areas that are difficult to reach with the grid. In other countries, governments might incentivize renewable energy adoption. This does not happen in Mexico but the industry will grow exponentially regardless. Like solar power production itself, the market is driven naturally and growth will occur in the years to come. We need to wait for the new market rules and hope the government does not get rid of all regulators, but new regulations should include DG. Mexico and its people need it as a tool for their development. Even though solar-based DG is intermittent, it has many benefits to offer, especially if intermittency is dealt with through technology.

 

Fronius focuses on solar electronics by developing and manufacturing photovoltaic inverters for interconnected and hybrid applications. At a global level, the company has positioned itself as a leading provider given its continuous innovation and technological offer. 

Photo by:   Fronius
Cas Biekmann Cas Biekmann Journalist and Industry Analyst