Luis Calderón
CEO
Solarvatio
/
View from the Top

Solar Systems Help to Combat Energy Poverty

By María José Goytia | Tue, 04/05/2022 - 09:36

Q: How has Solarvatio’s business evolved throughout the years?

A: It has been several years since we began our project. Throughout this time, the Mexican solar energy market has evolved exponentially. In the beginning, Mexican solar energy companies were scarce. The price of a solar module in 2011 was approximately US$4/W. At this cost, the number of photovoltaic panels installed for end users was practically zero, as solar energy was simply not affordable.

We started our business by focusing on rural electrification projects, which aim to reduce energy poverty. We worked with different organizations and foundations, as well as with all three levels of government. These rural electrification projects helped position the company in the market. As we implemented them, global acceptance of solar energy increased and its cost decreased, leading to the current boom in demand for distributed generation (DG). Having started as solar panel installers, working with a group of people dedicated to the construction of electric power distribution networks, it was simple to migrate to the DG niche and seize new opportunities there.

 

Q: What are the main challenges the company faces when installing solar systems in rural communities?

A: One of the main barriers to installing solar systems in remote rural areas is training the end user. It is extremely hard to find technicians to maintain solar systems in off-grid areas, even today. To tackle the problem, we developed a training program for community members. We create local jobs by shaping people within these communities into local technicians and installers. Though they have no previous experience, we train them to become qualified in PV solar maintenance.

When we develop our projects, we always immerse ourselves in the local community. Talent is the most important factor for these types of projects. With our training strategy, we create a positive impact. These communities have not had stable access to electricity before, which means a system such as this transforms their lives for the better.

 

Q: Solarvatio manufactures its panels in Oaxaca. What are the advantages and challenges that local manufacturing brings to the company and its clients?

A: Setting this up was a big challenge and we worked with many partners during the ramp-up phase of our manufacturing facility. In the beginning, we relied on technology transfer from our partners to create solar modules. People who believed in Solarvatio’s project gave us the opportunity to connect with suppliers and certification entities. These same people connected us with the global safety certification company UL in the US. This company then certified our modules, which granted us easy access to the US market.

Our challenge in Mexico is that we cannot compete with Chinese market leaders in terms of module price. However, Solarvatio’s strong suit is that we manufacture our own modules and also install them. Our customers feel confident when buying our modules because we are a one-stop shop: we manufacture, install, provide warranties and provide maintenance. This integral solution is what differentiates us from our competitors.

 

Q: Why does the company focus on battery storage as another part of its core business?

A: Solarvatio worked on a project with CFE in which we installed lithium batteries in 2,000 rural homes. We have a strong relationship with a Chinese supplier of lithium batteries, battery packs and hybrid inverters. A key project we just finished in December 2021 involved a 500kW battery-based solar power plant for a rural, isolated community in southern Mexico. We love these projects because battery energy storage systems (BESS) represent a niche market. Larger companies focus on solar farms instead.

 

Q: How important is working with CFE to Solarvatio’s business?

A: CFE projects are public contracts, so we always look to compete in these interesting ventures. Tenders are always competition-driven but Solarvatio has been doing these kinds of projects for a long time. Our experience is a competitive advantage. We have mainly two types of customers: we work with the government on public bids to support the grid and with private customers that want solar systems for their homes, businesses or industry.

 

Solarvatio is a Mexican company dedicated to the production of solar panels and the generation of energy from alternative sources. Its mission is focused on bringing clean energy to places where there is no access to the public grid.

Photo by:   Solarvatio
María José Goytia María José Goytia Journalist and Industry Analyst