Turbines Adapted to Mexico's DiversityWed, 02/24/2016 - 13:24
The history of GE in Mexico dates back more than 100 years, but the company’s renewable energy segment began to focus on Mexico rather recently. Previously, GE’s renewables division was focused on the US, but the financial crisis of 2008 pushed the company to diversify into other markets, such as Europe, Asia, and Latin America. As a result of the success GE experienced in Brazil, the company decided to expand to another country in the same region and opted for Mexico, deciding to increase its operations and double its workforce. Eólica Santa Catarina was GE’s first wind energy project in Mexico. According to Renato Santos, Renewables Mexico Leader GE Power & Water, the project involved the installation of eight turbines with the company’s GE2.75-103 technology, and allowed GE to demonstrate that a turnkey solution is not necessary for generating productivity.
Although many believe Mexico does not have a large enough supply chain to invest in manufacturing plants, GE has 15 manufacturing facilities in this country. Santos believes that the Mexican renewables are estimated to generate 500-600MW per year. Mexico’s installed wind capacity reached 2.4GW by the end of 2014, and around 500MW more have been added. “GE is experienced in supplying single components to other countries, and while we understand that the market may not be large enough in Mexico for many companies, we believe it may be possible to build these specific components here,” says Santos. He adds that GE needs the government to assure a high demand for these products for at least three years, a possibility that increased with the Energy Reform.
GE has an engineering center in Queretaro with 1,800 engineers specialized across several industries, including GE Aviation and GE Power & Water. The R&D division identifies and solves problems that are unique to the country. In the case of Mexico, the country has good resources for wind power, with winds of 6.5-8m/s even outside of Oaxaca, which has the characteristics of Class I wind speed (above 8.5m/s). “The problem is that many projects in Mexico are situated at high altitudes of up to 3,000m, with low air density, and high temperatures, which are not a good combination for wind turbines, since they are usually designed to operate at a maximum of 2,500m,” Santos points out.
As the sector is geographically expanding to other states, the R&D division will have to provide specific solutions for every new site, something it will do by working alongside customers. Santos believes R&D should not be exclusive to one part of the country, but rather it should develop concepts that can be adapted to every region, which is why GE employs local engineers with knowledge of the area. The R&D division is currently focused on application of technologies such as micro-siting, which is the evaluation of wind on site. This will help the company increase its capacity to develop new technologies and provide the most comprehensive solutions for its clients. Santos claims the company’s goal is to develop technology that will enable wind power to be competitive against other energy sources.
Santos acknowledges that GE’s competitors possess significant knowledge and experience, but these factors are focused on wind power exclusively. On the other hand, GE is involved in several other divisions, enabling the company to optimize its operations in the wind sector. For example, “While wind turbines are highly complex, other technologies such as gas turbines are even more so,” asserts Santos. “We have a lot of experience with gas turbines and we can utilize this knowledge to transfer the necessary technology, including software and controls, to wind turbines.”
In addition to providing technology-related services, GE can also help clients find financial support, either through GE Capital or its global network. “Without the proper financial support, small developers will find it hard to push their projects. GE has an Energy Finance Services (EFS) team to support small developers,” Santos informs. Projects are financed through GE Capital by EFS, which operates in a similar way to a bank, analyzing whether the projects will be profitable and lending the amount of money it deems appropriate. “The added value that clients acquire through GE Capital is the technical support. Unlike a bank, we can also contribute our technical knowledge to support the developer during the project. GE Capital is interested in promoting GE technology, it is familiar with our technology, and knows all potential risks involved,” details Santos.