Staying Ahead of a Rapidly Growing PackWed, 02/19/2014 - 12:13
The road to Mexico has not always been smooth for Spanish electrical engineering firm Ingeteam. In 2007, the company decided to capitalize on opportunities in the Mexican wind industry. A production facility soon sprang up in Monterrey to manufacture converters for wind turbines, which began producing in 2008. All would have been well but for the looming specter of the financial crisis. The crisis took its toll on the wind industry that slowed down considerably in 2009. At the time, Ingeteam had facilities in Europe and Mexico but the opportunity came up to expand with a new plant in the US. With the latter option proving more financially attractive, the decision was taken to shutter the Mexican plant in 2010 after it had churned out around 200 converters. This was not a loss of faith in the Mexican wind market but the financial conditions forced the firm to make some tough economic choices.
This strategizing did allow Ingeteam to devote more time and resources in Mexico to expand another part of its operations: solar. This decision has proven to be a wise one since Ingeteam’s inverters were chosen by Martifer to supply the Aura Solar I plant in La Paz, Baja California Sur, the first utility-size PV plant in Mexico. Kevin Gutiérrez Treviño, Ingeteam’s Director General, says this is due to Ingeteam’s worldwide reputation as an inverter manufacturer and its focus on innovation. “We are one of the top five inverter manufacturers in the world. We have a very strong R&D department in Spain, in which we invest around 10% of our sales to ensure the technical quality of our equipment,” he states.
Ingeteam’s core business is the installation of smart relays to monitor voltage and analyze the quality of the grid. The company has its own brand for this type of equipment, which complies with CFE NOMs. For example, the Power Max central V inverter is designed to comply with grid connection standards according to the country where it will be used, contributing to the quality and stability of electricity systems. This device was installed in La Paz, Baja California Sur, where the grid characteristics differ from the rest of Mexico. These inverters feature a low voltage ride-through capability, they can inject reactive power and also control the active power delivered to the electricity grid.
"Everything revolves around an inverter’s efficiency rate,” explains Gutiérrez Treviño. “This is something Ingeteam takes seriously and its products can prove it by achieving 98.9% maximum efficiency levels. Maintenance is another important element to consider when working with large inverters. A major advantage of our equipment is that the most sensitive parts can be easily repaired by changing the damaged components and replacing them with new ones with no loss of production.”
Ingeteam’s strategy is borne out in two direct ways for each project: the design of the inverters and close collaboration with the EPC providers. One of the main factors that worry plant developers is the loss of production if an element breaks down and is hard to repair. To avoid this problem, Ingeteam has designed its inverters to offer the greatest ease of maintenance possible. “The inverter is a big cabinet with four doors containing all the electronics. If they are damaged, you can localize the problem and quickly swap used parts for new ones. In that way, we avoid any loss of production,” says Gutiérrez Treviño.
Aware that participation in Aura Solar I and global experience on PV plants distinguishes it from its competitors, Ingeteam is doubling down on Mexico. Gutiérrez Treviño explains that the company is going to increase its presence across Mexico and seek long-term relationships that will make it easier to convince clients to invest in solar. But these growth prospects never forgot what first brought Ingeteam to Mexico, the wind industry. 500MW of their converters are already up and running in Oaxaca for Acciona, Gamesa, and other partners.
The company also has no qualms about using its success with Martifer, a European company, to grow its reputation and links to Mexican companies. “Aura Solar I was built in Mexico and we were knocking on doors every day to communicate efficiently. For the moment, we work with companies who can develop a 30MW solar project, from Spain or elsewhere. But the first large-scale solar project was always going to be the hardest. Now, local developers are going to become more confident and more willing to invest,” predicts Gutiérrez Treviño. He banks on his knowledge of the past to predict the future of the Mexican solar industry. In 2010, Ingeteam was handling projects involving tens of kilowatts. By 2011, that went up hundreds of kilowatts, and to entire megawatts during 2012. Accompanying this growth has allowed Ingeteam to plan the future accurately. “Other companies will have to plan very well to compete with Ingeteam in areas where we already know what to do,” concludes Gutiérrez Treviño as a warning shot.