Rigoberto Castañón Nava
General Manager
S&C Electric Mexicana

Intelligent Technologies Mitigate Energy Losses

Wed, 02/24/2016 - 16:58

The face of the Mexican power sector is not the only one that has been changed beyond recognition; companies across the sector are now creating innovative business models in order to get to grips with the shifting sands of this new energy landscape. Rigoberto Castañón, General Manager of S&C Electric Mexicana (S&C), says his company can now seize opportunities in generation, distribution, and transmission, areas in which S&C has developed expertise. “There will be a chance to offer integrated and intelligent solutions that will make the business of generation, transmission, and distribution far more efficient. Likewise, we have identified areas of interest in the solar and wind sectors by providing electromechanical solutions.”

Castañón says the new framework for the energy sector has set in motion an interest in his company’s products. “This new framework promotes efficiency and profitability, and these factors can be achieved through intelligent equipment. Competition will become fierce, and suppliers that are not up to par will be pushed to one side.” According to Castañón, CFE will follow new and transparent rules so that all providers are given equal footing. However, he believes the most important factor will be taking care of CFE’s needs, rather than adjusting to the rules. As a result, a public tender where the determining factor is price can be rather complicated for a company specialized in technology and added value products.

As CFE transforms itself into a profitable enterprise, S&C will find the greatest business opportunities in the incorporation of new technologies. “The company has cutting-edge equipment for protection, control, and automation of transmission and distribution systems,” says Castañón, adding that S&C products are suitable for the creation of smart grids. Power failures can be isolated in efficient ways that allow those in charge of the distribution network to repair the problem while continuing to supply electricity.

S&C is taking advantage of its success stories in order to showcase its expertise to potential clients, particularly CFE. The company has designed and installed smart grids in several US cities, and Castañón believes some of these projects can be replicated in Mexico. For example, in Chattanooga there are 2,500 switch status points controlled by S&C intelligent equipment, which decide whether electricity can pass. This region is prone to weather phenomena so electricity was frequently lost, causing a negative economic impact for utility companies. The smart grid allows identification of the spots where electricity is being lost, and efficient control.

S&C installed seven switch status points in Cozumel and has been operating this project for a year and, like any prototype, there have been certain problems that have needed adjustment. The decision to incorporate smart grids lies in the hands of CFE; however, local and state governments can push for the adoption of these technologies. “In Mexico we have had discussions with CFE and other authorities, but nothing has yet materialized,” explains Castañón.

Tracing the improvement of power quality begins the moment energy is generated. There are several solutions that can be used to mitigate technical losses, such as automatic and fixed capacitor banks. One of the factors leading to energy loses is voltage variations. These fluctuations give way to rising temperatures, and if the equipment is not maintained at operational and stable temperatures then energy is lost. Poorly engineered infrastructure also contributes to energy losses. “If a transmission line of 20km long is used and no capacitor banks are installed, then energy will debilitate and some will certainly be lost.”

The generation process of intermittent sources, such as solar and wind, can create voltage variations and imbalances. Certain pieces of equipment have to be installed in order to reduce these factors. S&C has a product called DSTATCOM, which increases the efficiency of energy storage systems by controlling voltage variations. “At the moment the storage solutions use batteries and these are not exactly environmentally friendly,” explains Castañón. “The plan is to transition to hydrogen cells or other technologies that can be more efficient and less aggressive to the environment.”

Currently there are different battery types, such as the ones that use sodium and lithium, which are far more efficient than lead batteries used in industrial applications. Given the size of the batteries, sometimes there is a need to control their temperature so as to not lose power. For instance, S&C provided equipment that made it possible to use solar generated power at night by storing it in largescale batteries during the day in several US cities. The implementation of similar technologies in Mexico could boost the use of renewables in the country.