Municipalities Attest to the Benefits of Solar EnergyWed, 02/24/2016 - 12:53
Making solar technology accessible will increase its demand among the general population, which is why SolarAct has been focused on installing solar powered lighting systems in municipalities across Mexico. Carlos Walls, Director General of SolarAct, says the most important competitive advantage that helped his company position itself lies in offering quality products adapted to the conditions of the Mexican market, as well as reliable aftersales services. The latter is useful when providing equipment maintenance, since spare parts have to be imported. Nonetheless, SolarAct has to compete with foreign products aggressively entering the market. According to Walls, the low quality of some of these products can even cause interference in the national grid. Before 2013, Mexican regulation was vague regarding the quality standards required from imported solar equipment. The issuing of the Ministry of Energy’s NOM-031 enforced certain compliance standards, enabling manufacturers like SolarAct to compete in egalitarian conditions
The use of LED lights has enabled SolarAct to offer highquality, certified products that can compete with imported technology. LEDs yield 50% savings when compared to technologies that use sodium vapor or metal additives, leading Walls to the conclusion that this is the most efficient lighting source available today. “LEDs enable us to generate a greater amount of light with smaller solar panels, resulting in both environmental and economic benefits. Other light emitting technologies would force us to use larger solar panels and develop more expensive systems that are inaccessible to the general population,” he explains.
Currently, SolarAct works mostly in the municipal, commercial, and industrial segments. The company has developed public lighting projects in rural communities, in Mexico City’s downtown, and in small and mediumsized cities in the State of Mexico. According to Walls, the costs of CFE’s traditional energy generated through hydroelectric processes will continue increasing, while the costs of solar technology will decrease, making it more accessible to private parties. Nonetheless, Walls explains: “There will be no true competition because CFE needs the support of the private sector to compensate for the increase in Mexico’s energy demand. Rather than a competition, we see it as a complement.” Although Walls believes opportunities in the residential market will arise, the municipal and industrial segments will continue being the company’s most important clients.
In order to further promote solar technology, SolarAct develops its market through a distribution network comprising small companies belonging to businesspeople that invest in implementing solar panels in their communities. “We are sure that SolarAct is not going to capitalize on opportunities alone. We plan on doing so in collaboration with small- and medium-sized companies that will disseminate the applications and benefits of this technology in a way that reaches the whole population,” Walls proclaims. He believes that when it comes to popularizing solar technology, small energy producers will be more important than the large international firms. Distributors are at the core of the company’s action plan, so SolarAct has a solar energy training center to train its ambassadors. Walls points out to a lack of knowledge as one of the reasons this technology not being implemented more in spite of its benefits. Walls believes that municipal authorities are distrustful regarding solar technology, which has slowed down the implementation of solar panels for public lighting. “Municipal authorities do not find it financially attractive to invest in similar technologies because they are looking for investments that are profitable during their tenures, not three years later.” Changing the three-year model is something SolarAct often discusses in solar energy associations. In spite of this hindrance, Walls claims the government is interested in the solar energy sector. For instance, there are several funding mechanisms, such as FIDE, in which federal resources are used so that municipalities and states can begin implementing solar panels.
The solar energy sector could be further developed if certain actions are taken, according to Walls. He believes one of the necessary incentives should be lowering the amount of bureaucratic procedures, mainly on CFE’s part, so that people can have easier access to this technology. “Nowadays these procedures are too long and complicated, and the authorities tend to obstruct rather than help, which ultimately discourages people. Regulation should facilitate access to solar technology in remote communities, which is something the government should be working on.” For Walls, the most important role the government can play in pushing the solar sector is disseminating information so that the population can learn about the benefits of solar power. He champions this technology because he believes that if the costs of solar energy continue to decrease while the costs of traditionally generated energy rise, solar energy will have a strong impact in Mexico.