Victor Pazmiño
Senior Business Developer and Design Engineer
Alion Energy
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View from the Top

Pioneering Automation in Mexico's Solar Market

Wed, 02/21/2018 - 12:29

Q: What is your assessment of the first auction projects and reaching ready-to-build phase?

A: There have been some issues in the Yucatan Peninsula for companies looking to install conventional PV solar parks using poles and getting ground rejection due to the overwhelmingly rocky nature of the soil in this particular location. This is an issue that happens more often than you would think. The Yucatan Peninsula is just one example. Still, we believe solar energy is here to stay, and projects will advance, albeit with a high probability of increased foundation costs.

Q: What is the major challenge in developing business for an O&M company like Alion in Mexico?

A: The fact that we consider a fully automated O&M solution from the beginning and not as an afterthought completely tackles one of the major challenges many asset owners face: implementing module cleaning without risking module degradation or module cracking by manual cleaning. Alion’s robot, SPOT, does not support itself on the panel, but on the existing concrete tracks. Also, if we consider Alion's 8MW project in Jalisco, we are talking about 50km of solar panels, an actual marathon length. SPOT not only cleans the panels but is also equipped with an infrared camera that can detect hot spots and malfunctions and ensures module quality and vegetation control. It can even spray orchard lime to increase albedo, which boosts energy production. This key preventive strategy for Mexico’s solar market reduced our O&M challenges greatly and helped to put us on the map.

Q: Alion Energy is involved in the Jalisco 1 project. What is its status?

A: The project was inaugurated in April and is online and operational. This project has the distinct honor of winning MIREC’s 2017 Project of the Year award. Our association with Fortius was key in this project. Fortius is a local player that perfectly understands the intricacies of Mexico’s solar market. The association made sense to Fortius because it was looking for new technologies to disrupt Mexico’s solar energy market. The end result is one of the first operational solar parks in the country financed entirely by Mexican capital. 

Q: Is there a possibility that Alion will merge its solar sensor technology with solar trackers?

A: We are actually building a 1MW pilot project next to Jalisco 1, where not only will our SPOT robot be deployed but we are also pioneering the first and only ballasted tracker for PV solar parks with fully automated robotic cleaning technology in Mexico.

Q: How does Alion Energy keep up with the latest technological developments in PV?

A: Since its inception, Alion Energy has positioned its developmental strategy in R&D. We always look for new ideas to disrupt the industry with our innovative approach to building solar systems and we strive to develop, create and offer an optimal PV system that can deliver the most energy over the long run. For instance, concrete can last for 50 years. In contrast to traditional metal poles, subsurface corrosion risk is nonexistent. Our solar tracker’s design is also a testimony to our company’s innovative capacity. It eschews the traditional “T” shape, effectively distributing the weight of the module through our Arc Drive load reduction while adding sturdiness to the overall structure against weather hazards that create micro-fissures on a solar panel, thereby degrading it.

Q: What are Alion’s long-term ambitions for the Mexican market?

A: Along with our partners, we are developing a pipeline of major projects, including a 100MW project for 2018. Also, the mining industry is key for Alion’s long-term strategy. Our technology is a perfect fit in this sector, both because mining operations are extremely energyintensive and their locations imply rocky sites where dust pollution is high. Alion’s business model for the longterm includes O&M contracts in Mexico’s mining industry, among other sectors.