Texas company to help Latin American utilities prevent blackouts

A Texas-based company is promoting a software platform through the first-of-its-kind project in Latin America that can help utilities optimize energy distribution during peak hours to avoid blackouts.

The company, Innovari, sees potential in the region for its product as the economies are growing faster than energy distribution capacity.

"We are moving away from small projects and now we are being asked to deploy larger scale projects," Manuel Arancibia, president for the Latin American region at Innovari, said during a telephone conversation. Innovari is based in Texas and has some 150 employees.

The software platform "allows to push more energy through the same infrastructure" so that utilities in the region and their clients can save money by investing in Innovari software rather than making expenses for more generation and distribution equipment, he said. 

The company is putting in place a grid that connects buildings, including eight supermarket stores, in the city of Cali, Colombia, to the city-owned electricity grid as part of a large-scale project.

"Industrial and commercial consumers, typically supermarkets, can consume half the electricity in the city," he said. A similar project is on the works for Panama. Previously, the company had set up smaller demonstration sites in places such as Uruguay and Argentina.

"The primary purpose is to serve as a capacity resource so when there is a lot of energy consumption what we do is provide the distribution company with a tool where they can send signals to clients like supermarkets," he said. Once the signals are received, there are instructions sent so the use of equipment like air conditioning can be reduced, all through automation.

"There is a very low level of automation in commercial customers in Latin America. We have seen some automation in industrials but in commercial it is very low," he said.

Latin America has a lot of hydroelectric generators which make the region vulnerable when the water levels are low like in periods of fewer rain. Latin American grids also face volatile consumption with surges in demand during summer periods, he added.

"Before turning on a diesel generator with all the fuel cost and pollution there is cheaper alternative which is running these automatic demand site management programs," Arancibia said. "We see a lot of growth potential and interest in many countries in Latin America. We see a lot of growth in the next five years driven by these country economies expanding much faster than their electricity grids."

On top of that, there is a climate warming that can provide a "double whammy" for Latin America because when summers get warmer, the electricity usage goes up as people turn on the air conditioning units.

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