Simon Zhao
President
Solarever
/
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Manufacturing the Decentralized Energy of the Future

By Cas Biekmann | Wed, 12/08/2021 - 09:00

Q: How did the pandemic complicate business for photovoltaic solar panel manufacturers?

A: Solarever’s mission is still the same: to be the most innovative, efficient and reliable developer of solar technology. We are Mexico’s top manufacturer of solar panels and a market leader for their distribution. To this end, we have three factories and five distribution centers in the country. Mexico is a strategic location for us because it allows the company to access the US market, which has enacted strong protection measures against Chinese companies as part of a wider trade conflict. We had a difficult time last year because the pandemic slowed down business and the supply chain, all while we invested US$20 million in our new factory in Tecoman, Colima. After operating in Mexico for many years, we felt the need to expand, especially to cater more to the growing US market. Our new factory now operates at a 500MW installed capacity per year. Following the opening of our third Mexican factory in January 2021, we were already obtaining positive sales trends: we experienced a huge closing in 2020 and have taken steps to further improve the company.

Solarever continues to be strongly committed to the Mexican market and wants to boost innovation here. For this reason, we have donated a solar laboratory to the renowned UNAM university. The project also features a top Chinese university, since China’s renewable energy technology is world-leading. We wanted to generate our own technology in Mexico to support major economic growth in the future.

 

Q: How has demand for PV-based solar evolved in Mexico for Solarever?

A: Demand can be divided into two sectors: utility scale, featuring giant solar projects, and distributed generation (DG), characterized by small, decentralized projects. In the utility scale environment, the government’s policy direction has had a massive impact. It is exceedingly hard to get a permit to generate electricity but even before this point, it was a challenge to become interconnected by CENACE. For large-scale projects, the market has mostly stopped, except for the finalization of some projects that were already under way. These previous projects entering into operation masked the situation, which is now clear beyond doubt.

In DG, the goal is to generate energy for the end user’s own use. This area has been affected much less, although the market has grown at a slower pace than we had hoped, around 20 percent, because of the pandemic and regulatory uncertainty. This means the market is not as great as it was before but it continues to move forward because of lowering costs and better technology. Many companies want to install solar panels to meet climate goals and be socially responsible. Solar energy is also much cheaper than the traditional CFE bill. I expect that DG will continue to grow for these reasons. What is more, Minister of Energy Rocío Nahle has recently said that while the government aims to reform the energy sector, DG-based energy will continue to be supported by the government, along with storage and energy efficiency. The Mexican grid is not very strong, which is a liability. Massive solar projects can have a major impact on the grid, whereas small decentralized projects support it. I do not fully agree with the move to stop permitting but I understand the government’s arguments in wanting to protect the grid’s stability.

 

Q: How is Solarever adapting its R&D and product portfolio toward the specific needs Mexico has now and will have in the near future?

A: The government is aware of how important DG and storage is. Solarever is quite lucky because all of its business is aligned with what the government aims to further develop. In solar generation, our goal is to expand our manufacturing capabilities. Regarding storage, we are developing our own lithium battery for storage systems, as well as our storage inverters. It is some of the best technology on the market: even though we distribute GROWATT and Tesla, among others, Solarever’s own technology stands out in comparison. It is a better match for the voltage and frequency requirements of the Mexican market.

Moreover, Solarever will begin promoting its own electric vehicle (EV) in early 2022. It is based on technology that is also very cost-effective. This is a major stumbling block for EVs. A Tesla is a really magnificent car but it is very expensive and, therefore, only available to the rich. Our EV will market below MX$300,000 (US$14,500). It could revolutionize Mexico’s automotive industry by making EVs available to everyone. A change needs to be made within Mexico. Its automotive industry is a pillar of the economy but it focuses on traditional cars. In the US and Europe, people are slowly stepping away from manufacturing and buying traditional cars as everyone switches to EVs. Where should Mexico’s industry go? By slowly adapting the manufacturing industry toward EVs, the automotive market will survive.

 

Q: What is a main challenge you see that Mexico would need to overcome to become a technological leader and innovator?

A: R&D is essential. The best way to become a market leader is to improve technology while decreasing costs. The problem is that in Mexico, we do not have that much capacity to really innovate technology. Another issue is that the government does not provide optimal support for innovation. New technology companies like Tesla and Amazon lost a lot of money at first. If we do not have the appropriate regulatory and financial support and an environment where this innovation can flourish without companies going under, innovation will not take off in Mexico.

 

Q: Where should R&D be focused to enable a sustainable green energy transition?

A: The growth of renewable technology is enabling a shift away from utility-scale projects and of large, centralized energy utilities. Previously, you would need massive capacity, interconnections, substations and transmission lines, among other key components. It was impossible for an individual to generate their own energy. Now, decentralized energy, such as solar combined with storage, is not only cheap but any building, factory or shopping center can install it to generate its own electricity. Therefore, they become decentralized independent power producers and offtakers of energy, no longer needing to rely on a utility. This is the energy structure of the future, which we will not only see in Mexico but around the world. Nobody can stop this future energy revolution. It is simply where modern technology is headed. The same will happen with cars. EVs can be charged at home or at public charging stations, powered by centralized energy. In this framework, there is not really a need for large centralized companies owning gas stations or electricity networks. Innovating further in this area is essential because this technology could affect our lives in so many ways.

Solarever is a key company in the development, manufacturing and distribution of solar panels, ranging from residential projects to solar farms. The company has several manufacturing plants in Mexico, including Latin America’s largest, located in Tecoman, Colima.

Cas Biekmann Cas Biekmann Journalist and Industry Analyst