Trusted Equipment and Solutions Provider for CFEWed, 02/19/2014 - 13:35
Q: What role does Mexico play in the world of SEL and what has been your main focus in this country?
A: CFE was our first international customer in 1986, and is now one of our top three global customers. This created a close relationship with Mexico, and CFE has become a strong source of knowledge and understanding on how utility companies see operational aspects, infrastructure, and business models. They pitch in with ideas on product development. We develop products that suit CFE’s needs, we test them together, we implement product applications together, and we even write technical papers together. CFE is the reason we are in Mexico and the reason why we do what we do in this market.
The first thing we did in Mexico was to create an engineering team to develop products for this market, while also moving into assembly. We also acquired the company that supplied SEL with rotary switches, as part of our downwards vertical integration culture. We have a strong R&D team in Mexico with engineers of different disciplines for the PowerCORE pre-manufactured buildings, our RS rotary switches, and our cabinets. We are also doing software development as, due to the protection and automation involved in the power systems, several software tools are needed to integrate them.
CFE is progressive in the way it protects, monitors, and operates its systems. We also do business with hundreds of utility companies in the US and other countries, and the differences with Mexico are remarkable. CFE is innovative, it is willing to do things in a different way, which is compatible with our way of thinking. SEL favors the concept of vertical integration over outsourcing because it gives us control over quality and competitiveness. Our Mexican operations were started based on serving the market, selling products to CFE, and expanding our vertical integration. The company started with relays, then meters, computers, and radios, before finally moving into everything that is used to protect and monitor a system. We see ourselves growing to complement all aspects of the system, with different devices and applications that will support CFE’s work or anyone who uses electricity. CFE may be our largest client, but we also serve a growing and important customer base.
Q: Where do you see the most opportunities for growth, between generation, transmission and distribution?
A: Our first products served this transmission area, so we have a lot of expertise there. We then moved into automatizing distribution networks, which are becoming more complex as they grow in size and as consumers become more demanding. Another factor has been the rise in efforts to produce greener energy, sparking the entry of small producers. The use of solar panels in homes has an impact on the grid. A neighborhood where all homes have solar panels will see demand increase when a cloud is overhead, for example. The grid has to be reconfigured to adapt to such situations.
We are also involved in generation, but to a lesser extent. We already offer protection for generators and we are expanding into different services, such as remote controlling. Our mission is to make electric power safer, more reliable, and more economical. However, some technologies are not necessarily making power more affordable. There has to be a balance, particularly regarding renewable energy sources, because their intermittence requires backup power sources, which translates into redundancy in the system. We have participated in the renewable sector and worked with CFE on the first Mexican wind farm, and we are also working on solar projects as well as pilot projects for tidal power.
Q: What are the main areas that SEL and CFE are focusing on in their research and development?
A: Although we do not develop products together, CFE shares its concerns and the obstacles it is facing. We relay these issues to our R&D division, which assesses feasibility, looks at solutions SEL has provided elsewhere, and develops tailor-made solutions for CFE. That is how we work together. Sometimes, we pitch ideas that turn into CFE pilot programs. This is what happened with optic current transformers for high voltage substations that use fiber optic sensors. We have been testing this product with CFE for a while now. Another example is experimenting with nontraditional applications of existing products. If CFE wants to increase the speed of a distribution network in a certain area or reconfigure the grid due to a fault, we provide a solution, CFE tests it and if it works, it is implemented elsewhere.