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Analysis

IT Takes an Industry

Wed, 02/22/2017 - 15:37

Producing one megawatt of renewable energy takes a whole industry. Wind turbines and solar panels do not miraculously spring from the ground and connect themselves to the grid. The proper development of the newly liberalized electricity market, including the heavy involvement of new technologies such as efficient combined-cycle plants, requires experts in fields ranging from software to frequency regulators to power inverters, as well as the consultants working in the background to make sure every single piece of equipment adheres to the strictest certifications.

The applications provided by a growing energy supply chain do not end in power generation but extend to systems that help companies become more efficient in their consumption, saving money and resources, and include “smart” street-lighting and innovative ways to turn waste into cheap energy.

“Energy demand will almost double in the next 40 years, stemming from the twin challenges of access to energy and the megatrends of urbanization, digitalization and industrialization. At the same time, we have to reduce CO2 emissions by half to avoid irreversible damage to our planet. The only way to do that is to become three times more efficient,” says Enrique González, CEO of Schneider Electric Mexico and Central America, a company dedicated to energy management solutions.

“Technology in Mexico was quite underdeveloped but with the liberalization of the market, companies are driven to optimize generation processes and become more cost-efficient through technological developments”

Juan Kuri, VP and Country Manager Mesoamerica at Siemens PLM Software

But as demand grows, Mexico has established power goals that will drive the industry further down the path of efficiency, such as the objective of obtaining 35 percent of the country’s energy from clean sources by 2024. The old way of doing things will not cut it anymore. Even garbage has become a resource for consideration,

doubling as an industrial fuel while avoiding soil contamination.

“Developing smart energy solutions consists of designing products that can optimize an entire project’s performance in terms of cost and production. A smart solution does not only consist of one product but includes a range of components and accessories arranged to improve the plant’s operations,” says David Sánchez, Sales Director at the Smart PV Business Division of Chinese electronics giant Huawei.

GREASING THE WHEELS

A big part of what keeps the wheels —or better, the turbines— turning is compatibility and reliability, seen mostly through the eyes of international and national certifications. These certifications are the “grease” that allow a Danish- made generator in Oaxaca to work seamlessly with a US- designed control panel through connectors assembled in Mexico City that send energy to a Japanese-based automotive manufacturer in San Luis Potosi. “Our role is to standardize products and subsystems designed to work among greater systems for optimal energy performance,” says Abel Hernández, the CEO of certification specialist ANCE. “There is very intense activity coming Mexico’s way in terms of the Internet of Things, smart grids, smart houses and other such technologies and it all depends on standards and regulations.” As more international companies set up shop in the country, being up to code with the latest, more stringent standards will no longer be a plus, it will be a requirement, many in the sector say.

Another segment where new opportunities are arising is in working with the new CFE, still a state-owned company but now with a mandate to become productive and competitive to participate on equal terms with private players. For a company that large and with an older infrastructure, the job is both to modernize its grid and to stop the widespread electricity theft that results in millions of dollars of losses every year. “We have developed products specially designed to meet the state- owned company’s needs, including an electrical connector that can work up to two years instead of just six months in areas with high levels of corrosion and pollution,” says Sigma Solutions Executive Director, Gabriel Hernández. “This product was relevant for CFE because it allowed the company to save money in locations with these kinds of problems, such as Coatzacoalcos in Veracruz.”

There are a multitude of challenges ahead as the new-look market grows into its potential. Every link in the chain will play a key role in meeting those challenges.