Maximizing the Potential for Trigeneration TurbinesWed, 02/19/2014 - 15:36
Watching the evolution through time that led to the creation of Soluciones Energéticas Sparx (Sparx) is to chart a timeline of Mexico’s renewable energy priorities. After being shuttered for 10 years after 1994 due to the economic crisis, its parent company TAPE was revived in 2003 as an energy consulting firm, providing services to the Mexican manufacturing industry. Today, it has further evolved to sell the Sparx line of microturbines and turbo generators.
As an early advocate of ways to reduce energy consumption and energy bills, Soluciones Energéticas Sparx sold these ideas in the beginning, says Director General Luis Garduño Landázuri, adding that the original goal was to help companies reduce their costs, rather than their carbon emissions or energy consumption. Following on from this, the company was contracted by various federal and municipal governments, before scaling up to offer consulting services to corporations such as ABB, GE and Siemens while beginning to sell trigeneration gas turbines, providing electricity, hot water and air conditioning at once.
The company’s commitment to the solutions provided by gas turbines has placed a number of challenges in Sparx’s path, including a lack of natural gas infrastructure and whether microturbines can compete with established mechanisms such as the PPAs offered by renewable energy plants. Garduño Landázuri dismisses the first concern, saying that while “Mexico City does not have an adequate availability of natural gas infrastructure, many other cities such as Monterrey, Saltillo and Queretaro have over 95% availability.” As for any competition between PPAs and microturbines, PPAs are signed by Sparx. But Garduño Landázuri feels neither solution should be exclusive and that “many clients are not big enough to sign PPAs with major energy distributors and have to buy smaller turbines.”
Sparx technology is now at the core of the company’s operations, and Garduño Landázuri is trying to broaden its appeal. Having started with a gas turbine, the company has been tweaking its R&D and is close to rolling out a steam gas turbine that will boast 3-5% more efficiency than its previous products. Garduño Landázuri explains the company is also trying to broaden its customer base by playing to the needs of the Mexican market, such as biogas. In Mexico, international banks are funding the collection of biogas, especially from livestock farms with high methane emissions. The farmers are paid to burn the methane, but the gas is not always being used. Sparx offers farmers the opportunity to burn the methane in one of its turbines and sell the power to the grid, under the small power producer scheme. The tourism sector could also benefit from biogas technology, says Garduño Landázuri, stating that trigeneration gas turbines could provide a hotel with hot water, air conditioning and electricity, while providing a 40% reduction in costs and a 30% reduction in CO2 emissions.
The Sparx line covers both cogeneration and trigeneration products, but there is a clear difference in their value proposition. The payback for cogeneration, which produces hot water and electricity, takes over three years while trigeneration turbines, when running at full capacity, take less than two years to provide payback to clients. Garduño Landázuri says that demand for air conditioning is growing every year, making trigeneration a better option as it uses the remaining heat to power air conditioning, instead of electricity. “Investing around US$500,000 in our equipment means that a hotel could reduce its operating cost by around 40-50%,” he explains. He adds that the first time TAPE provided a trigeneration system was to a hotel in Calzada del Hueso. The results have been monitored ever since installation and have been found to be very satisfying.
It is this aptitude for providing turnkey products that Sparx sees as making it stand out from direct competitors such as Siemens or Guascor. “Siemens might offer a product that is the closest one it has to a client’s general needs,” says Garduño Landázuri, “while Sparx takes a custombased approach to client service that results in the firm developing a system solution for each client, which bigger corporations might not be interested in.” Sparx adopts a modular approach to larger projects, connecting smaller products in parallel to produce a higher load. While this does present some risks if the system fails, backups are stocked for each Sparx product operating in the market to guarantee rapid service to clients. The evolution of TAPE looks set to continue as it follows a strategy involving projects across new technologies, including wind and solar. The company is developing a 1.5MW solar project in Sonora as well as tabling an offer to take part in a large wind park in Oaxaca. Although Sparx would only participate in the engineering process, the firm’s commitment to reducing Mexico’s dependence on fossil fuels makes it confident that it will make a real difference in creating the most environmentally conscious wind park in Mexico.