Gustavo Galaz
Director of Fire, Gas and Energy
F Tech
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Insight

Leading the Shift to a Preventive Culture

Fri, 02/01/2019 - 10:17

Mexico is witnessing exponential growth in PV and wind power projects, which are gaining ground over conventional systems powered by fossil fuels. Despite the competition, fossil fuels and renewable energy have one thing in common: the importance of safety and security in their operation.
“Renewable energy power plants, especially wind farms and solar parks, rely heavily on insurance to cover the installation and production phases, to the detriment of fireprevention systems,” says Gustavo Galaz, Director of Fire, Gas and Energy at F Tech. “While developers see the value in having an insurance policy in place to mitigate losses in the case of an accident, preventive safety features like fireprevention systems are instead seen as an additional cost.”
F Tech is on a mission to showcase the benefits of fire prevention. “We are working to show Mexico’s energy industry the benefits of fire prevention against production loss, bypassing the time required for the reinstallation of faulty or damaged equipment,” Galaz says. Shifting from a corrective to a preventive culture requires greater awareness of the risks of power generation, even with renewable energy sources.
These efforts extend not only to the private sphere but also to strengthening the existing safety and security regulatory framework in Mexico. As members of the Mexican Association of Automatic Fire Sprinklers (AMRACI), F Tech coordinates efforts with the US-based National Fire Protection Association (NFPA) to propose safety regulation before the industry’s regulators and government. This brings Mexico’s safety Official Mexican Norms (NOMs) closer to international best practices relating to fire detection and extinction systems.
The highest risks for wind farm and PV park operations lie in possible heat sources within the installations, says Galaz. “The energy from a nacelle’s spinning motion, electric boards, substations and converters generate a great deal of heat,” he says. “Should these components overheat, a potential explosion can go well beyond material damages or power-generation loss.” Considering the industry’s reliance on battery-powered storage solutions to address renewable energy’s intermittency, Galaz sees an additional risk in the installation and operation of battery banks. “Storage systems are primarily composed of highly-combustible hydrogen,” he explains, emphasizing their instability in the case of a fire.
To best counter these risks, F Tech is introducing technology that is unavailable in Mexico’s renewable energy market from risk-averse countries such as the US and Germany. But F Tech does not rely on brand exclusivity. “That limits the amount of technologies and components we can offer. Different power generation technologies imply different risks, to which different mitigation, protection and fireprevention systems apply,” he explains. “We want to be able to provide tailor-made solutions to address the diversity of Mexico’s energy mix.”
Galaz believes that F Tech’s strength lies in its tenured risk-analysis practice for optimal design, installation and aftersales service. “In our experience, our clients’ decision to rely on fire-prevention systems is based 20 percent on price and 80 percent on service quality and seriousness,” he says. He finds that energy industry players are unwilling to expose their infrastructure to inexperienced companies, and F Tech is backed by a successful 20-year track record. “Safety is not a commodity; it requires specialized engineering, software and fire-prevention system design,” he says.
F Tech is determined to grow parallel to the country’s renewable energy penetration. “There is an intense growth of renewable energy projects in Mexico, backed by significant public and private investment and requiring the level of specialization in fire-prevention that F Tech can provide,” Galaz says. Cogeneration plants, offshore platforms, storage and distribution terminals for gasoline and kerosene, booming in Mexico’s northern region and the Gulf states, are also in F Tech’s crosshairs. “Heavyweight IOCs such as ExxonMobil and Shell are investing heavily in licensing-round projects and we want to accompany them and provide the safety and security to guarantee their success,” he says.