Interview: Don’t be Afraid of Complex Solutions

Vinicio Alvarez is the Commercial Manager and Operations Director of Propace Ingeniería S.A., ComAp’s distributor in Costa Rica, which has been cooperating with ComAp since 2011. In an interview for The Current, we talked about the energy market in Costa Rica. How does the company deal with local risks and challenges? And what are the biggest tasks that Vinicio has set himself for 2018?

What excites you the most when it comes to the changing landscape of energy?

Costa Rica has committed to become a carbon neutral country by 2021. Currently, 99 % of the electricity produced here is from renewables. I see it as a great opportunity for the future, and also a challenge, because it requires learning new things.
What about some risks connected to the local political or economic situation?

The government is in charge of electricity here. All the power generation projects they buy, are ready-designed from foreign companies and imported here. Therefore, we are not able to sell our products to these projects. We have to, then, focus on the private market. One option is to sell controllers to older gen-sets. We search for open-minded owners of smaller hydropower plants or sugar mills that use gas turbines, who are already using some equivalent controllers. We know that in those markets, people are trying to lower their environmental footprint, so we try to offer them our solution.
And that is not easy, I assume.

Most people don’t like change. They try to avoid it and stay in their comfort zone. A few clients accepted the risk and they were happy to see that we turned their old generator into an almost new machine, we cleaned it, painted it, put a new face on it and a good quality controller inside.
How do you see ComAp in the local markets of Central America?

We don’t have OEMs in Costa Rica. We don’t have generator factories either. All the generators that are being imported here come with controllers. If people here are going to buy a replacement, they want it to be original. We had to sell the idea of using a less known brand to them. Nowadays, ComAp has become much more known in the region than years ago.
Also, ComAp controllers are on generators of one of the regional telecommunication companies so they are becoming more visible and people are accepting them.
What has been the biggest enabler for your success over the last years?
We have made joint ventures with other companies producing switchgear for paralleling systems and we try to promote paralleling systems for generators in Costa Rica. It works like this: One company from Portugal sends us the generator sets without controllers and circuit breakers; and we finish the whole arrangement here by adding transfer switches, switchgears or paralleling systems cabinets assembled all together with distribution equipment from Japan and the “intelligence” of ComAp controllers. Thanks to this cooperation, our costs have decreased and the quality and support have increased, offering the best added value in the market.
What advice would you give to any new potential ComAp distributor or partner?

Don’t be afraid of more complex projects. We stayed too long with the standard ones and it cost us time. Of course, more complicated projects are going to be more expensive. Customers don’t expect more complex solutions – it is necessary to sell that idea to them. The essential thing for this kind of business is to keep good people. Get the right engineers who will keep the company together. Their knowledge is not acquired quickly; it is a process that takes time.
Do you have a special challenge for 2018?
One of our tasks is to finish the facilities where we assemble switchgear controllers. Also, we need to certify products that we are currently assembling. To certify their designs so that we can export the final products from Costa Rica. And of course, to get more clients, especially for the paralleling systems.

This interview was originally published in The Current. Subscribe to the magazine for free here.
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