Santiago Barcón
Managing Directo
Arteche PQ Business Unit

Smart Grid Technology, Made in Mexico

Wed, 02/19/2014 - 13:23

Technology transfer in the energy industry has usually seen Mexico as a recipient. Yet, Arteche’s activities in Mexico allowed it to create international best practices that were then passed on to company headquarters in Spain. The company first entered Mexico in 1993 to focus on opportunities in the market for distribution automation, or smart grid technology, and power quality, the latter having long been an anchor of the Spanish firm’s product portfolio. Arteche had been in the middle of a Latin American expansion that also saw it buy a Brazilian company, working on distribution automation. Quickly, knowhow began flooding between Brazil and Mexico, before being taken on board centrally in Spain. Two decades later, Arteche is still confident about its future in Mexico, according to Santiago Barcón, Managing Director of Arteche’s power quality business unit. “Mexico is a stable market and has a stable economy. We see good opportunities in the local electric sector; transformers here are at least 35 years old, and sooner or later this equipment will have to be replaced.”

The firm provides key services to both the wind and solar industries, from turnkey solutions for wind farms to equipment and system packages for power substations as well as distribution and transmission lines. At a time when there is real concern among developers about CFE’s ability to ensure grid connections, Arteche’s expertise in the interconnection of wind power to the grid will be more than welcome. “Arteche is the only private company in Mexico to use the same PSS/E (power system simulation for engineering) as CFE. With the expansion of wind farms, such software is crucial to observe and optimize the impact that future projects will have on the grid. Arteche has a team of engineers that specializes in this simulation, which would allow all stakeholders to more confidently plant interconnection procedures,” states Barcón.

The tumultuous times surrounding the passing of the Energy Reform also seem to leave Barcón unfazed. “I see the enemy being inside, not outside. As well as we take care of our customers, control our costs, and offer good prices and services, we will do well whoever is at the top.” Arteche’s model seeks to depend as little as possible on the government and to have an export-focused mindset. Although operations may be based here, exporting products to countries all around the world is a good barrier against any potential drops in the Mexican market. The pragmatism that guides the company naturally sees Arteche seek opportunities outside of renewable energy. For Mexico’s wider energy generation needs, Arteche is pushing for better power quality and an ultimate move toward a smart grid. The company provides instrument transformers for metering, reactive compensation systems, power quality studies and reclosers, all of help to create a more automated and secure grid in Mexico.

Is Arteche really able to make a difference to the way CFE does business? Consumers and CFE frequently complain about each other but little action is being taken to resolve the problems, says Barcón. For him, the first step is to install precise metering. This would allow CFE to have a better idea what is happening in its system at any time. “In terms of power quality, instead of aiming for an unlikely state of having no faults across the system, looking into minor interruptions would be a good place to start,” Barcón adds. CFE has started taking actions, such as in Puebla, where measurements are being taken while solutions are being found for customer complaints. To take this to a national level, he insists, implies moving to a smart grid, a possibility that seems remote given CFE’s current financial situation.

Arteche does not just operate at the macro-level, the needs of the small town of Tubares in Chihuahua were also met by Arteche technology. Given that the town was in a remote location, a long distribution line would have proven prohibitively expensive. Arteche created a potential transformer that could connect directly to the transmission grid and provide the low voltage needed by the community. This product had already been developed when Barcón joined Arteche but he saw the potential to apply it to rural electrification. Since the success at Tubares, it is now being rolled out for other rural projects. In this, Barcón sees another example for the value of good power quality. “Giving people solar panels and light bulbs is not electrification. They want good power. They want to be able to pump water and connect a refrigerator. In Tubares, people could now have a fan and a fridge,” he explains.

Arteche spends around 3% of revenues on R&D and is betting on various smart grid solutions that it believes will be necessary. This commitment is not divorced from the Mexican need for a domestic supply chain. Arteche’s meters are developed here, as are much of the production relays. Supporting this initiative, Arteche’s HQ in Spain provided generous funds for R&D in Mexico, an initiative that has allowed the company to make an all too rare statement: its products are designed and made in Mexico.