Jorge Huacúz
Manager of the Non-Conventional Energy Division
View from the Top

Lack of Communication Impeding R&D for Renewables

Wed, 02/19/2014 - 10:56

Q: Which role do renewable energy sources play in the activities of the Electrical Research Institute (IIE)?

A: There are two renewable energy divisions in the IIE: one is exclusively devoted to geothermal energy and the other covers all other non-conventional energy sources. We have been working on renewable energy sources for 35 years and our objective is to push the sustainable application of renewable energy in Mexico. We contribute to the entire national power sector by developing energy sources, carrying out technical research and supporting CFE with regulatory and normative issues through reports that eventually lead to resolutions or CRE norms.

Q: What is IIE’s strategy to turn proposals into results?

A: First and foremost, we need human capital with the necessary abilities and qualifications to develop proposals. This has historically been a key subject in the development of renewable energy sources. Another part of our strategy consists of creating support infrastructure, gauging stations, and digital databases that enable us to have strong and consolidated information. This requires time, money, and a national program. The institute has therefore sought the support of organisms that could help us. We created the National Laboratory for the Assessment of Renewable Energy Sources through a joint investment with the National Technology Council.

Q: What are your thoughts on those who think technology development is redundant because imports offer faster and more affordable solutions?

A: Based on my professional and academic experience, I obviously do not share this point of view. Mexican industry is traditionally inclined towards commercializing rather than producing technology. We noticed that in the solar energy sector, every company is either buying or selling parts, except for two companies that assemble photovoltaic modules using imported components. Companies that commercialize are clearly part of the value chain, and we do not disregard them because local manufacturing makes no sense if no one is distributing and selling. The real issue is that there is very little liaising between renewable energy companies and the institutions carrying out R&D. Companies do not have clear foresight when it comes to manufacturing, meaning that many elements that are obvious to researchers and technology developers are being missed by businesspeople.

Q: What is needed to drive the renewable energy sector forward?

A: Initial investments are an important barrier. We have addressed this by doing workshops on financing and PV systems with banks and international financing institutions. We want investors to know they can invest in the renewable energy sector. The introduction of financing mechanisms could be sped up if, for example, the Energy Transition Fund dedicated some resources to financial coverage. This could ease concerns banks have about potentially risky investments. The National Energy Strategy is also lagging behind, with fossil fuels still set to account for 50% of power generation by 2050. This is both a huge challenge and a great opportunity for renewables. However, the role of renewable energy must be properly stated and assimilated.

Renewable energy should be used to reactivate the country’s economy. Economic motivations drove countries like Spain and Germany to develop renewable energy industries, and they are now world leaders in the field. If we take advantage of the wind resources that have been already identified in Mexico, 40,000 to 50,000 jobs could be created. Another aspect to reconsider is how projects could be developed to maximize resources. Renewables are dispersed energy sources; centralizing them to deploy them to different places later on seems rather counter-productive. Big definitely works, but small is also nice and profitable.

Q: What priority actions do you think energy-related government organisms should take?

A: Oil gives us time and economic resources, but we have to use these intelligently. The funds that result from the Energy Reform should be aligned with national objectives. This is not the case nowadays as Mexico is still struggling to assign and distribute the resources needed to achieve a concrete policy on renewables. The US set itself the goal of generating 20% of its energy from wind power by 2030 and it is on the right track. Mexico needs to make the same level of commitment.