Carlos Gottfried Joy
President
Potencia Industrial
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View from the Top

Turbine Pioneers Lobbying for Continued Success

Wed, 02/19/2014 - 10:55

otencia Industrial is not new to technology development, as it came up with the first direct-drive permanent magnet generator wind turbine in the world, a 5kW machine that the company patented in 1975. Aiming to make renewable energy a practical reality, the company moved on to design and build 550kW induction and 750kW doubly fed wound rotor generators for companies like Enron in the 1990s. During Mexico’s economic crisis of that decade, Potencia Industrial shifted its manufacturing model as part of a survival strategy. The company went from building industrial motors and generators to machines for the renewable energy industry. New activities included making generators for small hydroelectric projects. “These are highly efficient generators with variable speed applications, which happen to be the perfect match for wind generators,” states Carlos Gottfried Joy, President of Potencia Industrial. The main client of the company over the years has been Clipper Windpower, which acquired 3,500 generators with total capacity of 2,700MW.

As a member of AMDEE, one of Potencia Industrial’s responsibilities is maintaining a dialogue with the government about renewable energy. “As an industry, we are now more institutional in terms of lobbying. The country has very clear renewable energy targets for 2024, but the steps that must be taken to reach these targets have not been clearly defined,” explains Pablo Gottfried Blackmore, Director General at Fuerza Eólica, a company belonging to Potencia Industrial. “The government and private sector have to reach agreements on infrastructure and transmission in order for investment to grow in the sector. Wind energy has proven itself by producing power at prices that can compete with coal or hydropower without the need for subsidies,” says Gottfried Joy. The technological developments that have increased the wind energy sector’s competitiveness, made it more challenging for Potencia Industrial to find suitable turbine manufacturers to partner with. Eventually, Spanish firm Made designed a turbine for the strong winds in Oaxaca. The company, later acquired by Gamesa, installed the first utility-scale wind farm in Mexico with modern turbines. This also allowed Potencia Industrial to bring another of its products into play, high efficiency permanent-magnet generators. High efficiency is at the core of the company’s products, an essential factor when selling to the demanding markets of the US and Canada.

To prepare for future challenges, Potencia Industrial operates oneoftheonlytwolaboratoriesforhighvoltageefficiency testing in Mexico, the other one belonging to CFE. “We have invested heavily in testing facilities and engineering that enable us to develop technology that would generally require more time and money from a larger company,” says Gottfried Blackmore. Other technological achievements in the company’s portfolio include the development of frequency converters for aircraft docking terminals in American airports. Despite the development of new technologies and its testing laboratory, Gottfried Joy does not feel the Mexican energy market presents the right conditions to justify the development of a domestic value chain. “We do have the US market next door, but that market stops and starts and does not require or incentivize permanent operations in Mexico,” explains Gottfried Joy. “However, there are a few strong suppliers here in Mexico, such as Trinity Industries that has plants in Texas and Ireland.” He explains that Mexico has the capacity to manufacture wind turbines but actually doing so would require clear objectives. “It would make more sense for such products to be manufactured in Mexico and sold to the US. But the US has encouraged an increase in domestic manufacturing, so this has become more difficult.”

However, Gottfried Joy believes that Mexico’s manufacturing potential could supply American and Canadian factories, if assembly processes were brought back to the country and if idle industrial potential was properly utilized. Potencia Industrial would be ready to act if such a situation arose. “If there are going to be turbines made in Mexico, we want Potencia Industrial to supply the generators. Most turbine manufacturers like us have vertically integrated and are now making their own generators.”

The state of Mexican manufacturing can also be seen in the challenges Potencia Industrial faces to keep its market position. Gottfried Joy says that a ten-year head start in R&D has given the firm several advantages. However, he adds that “Potencia Industrial’s Mexican competition is fading when compared to international manufacturers. This situation encourages the company to reinvest significant resources in research and development, such as sophisticated software for designing electric rotating machines.” But whatever direction the market might take, Gottfried Joy is confident the 60-year-old firm’s quality products will see it through. “We want to help Mexico make a decisive move towards renewable energy and we are waging on that happening,” he concludes.