This August, Technical Support Specialist Natalie Babij traveled to China to meet with a number of NRG Systems’ valued customers. During her stay, Natalie conducted technical trainings, observed field installations, and even snuck in a hike along the awe-inspiring Great Wall of China.
We sat down with Natalie to talk about her travels as well as the current state of China's renewable energy industry and where it’s headed.
Can you give a brief overview of your recent trip to China?
NB: This was my second trip to China this year, and one of five trips to China that NRG's Technical Services team has made this year.
On this particular trip, the goals were to conduct a technical training for Beijing Eastrong Technology Company, a frequent user of our products; have technical discussions with Beijing Leviathan Technology (BLT), one of our authorized dealers; and observe how BLT and LOHO, another authorized NRG dealer – install our equipment in the field.
I arrived in Beijing on Saturday evening and the next day I enjoyed an amazing hike along a section of the Great Wall. On Monday, I met up with Jeremy Xu, NRG’s Sales Account Manager in China, and we visited Beijing Eastrong at a conference center, where I conducted a full-day technical training for a group of 15-20 engineers and technicians as well as sales and technical support staff. On Tuesday, we traveled via bullet train and car to a tower location in Hebei province to observe a BLT installation. On Wednesday, we met with some of BLT’s technical staff at their office in Beijing for a general discussion and an informal Q&A. On Thursday morning, I flew from Beijing to Shenzhen, where I met up with a technical support representative and two field technicians from LOHO, and we drove several hours north to Guangdong province, where we spent the night. On Friday, we continued driving to a tower location, which also required hopping on a tractor to drive up steep, windy, rugged logging roads to the tower on the top of a hill. Unfortunately, there were lightning storms in the area, so they were not able to complete the installation. We made our way back to Shenzhen that evening in time for me to catch a plane to Shanghai, and I flew out of Shanghai the next day.
Which stops from this trip stand out the most in your memory?
NB: Both of the site visits really stood out. During my first trip to China earlier this year, I spent the entire time in Beijing, so this was my first opportunity to see the Chinese countryside. Both site locations were in beautiful, mountainous terrain and involved travel through vast agricultural areas and smaller towns and villages. It is always impressive to see the remote, rugged locations where field crews install NRG equipment.
You have been part of installations/trainings in the U.S., South America, and beyond. What unique challenges does China face?
NB: I’m not sure I would say that China faces any entirely unique challenges. One thing that sets China apart is just the size of the population and the speed at which their wind industry is developing. This means an exceptionally high volume of NRG products being purchased, installed, and maintained.
What advice do you have for dealing with these challenges?
NB: We urge users to provide feedback to NRG or their authorized NRG dealer. When a customer encounters a challenge with one of our products, we want to know, and we want to find a way to make their lives easier. For example, sometimes a challenge faced by a customer may be the result of lack of information. If that’s the case, we create new documents or update existing documents to provide the information necessary to deal with the challenge. The language barrier presents an additional challenge for working in China, but we have been making progress in providing Chinese language versions of our most relevant technical documents.
Sometimes a reoccurring challenge warrants an improvement in our product design or functionality. In these cases, NRG will engage the customer in further discussion to learn more about their needs, the challenges they are facing, and propose some solutions.
Are there any practices (installation or otherwise) in China that other areas could learn from?
NB: The installation crews I met with and observed were very professional. Many sites in China are lightning-prone, so ESD damage to equipment is a significant concern. Both crews took great care to ground their systems well, whether following NRG guidelines verbatim or developing their own grounding systems that meet strict engineering standards.
What does NRG gain from trips like these/visits with customers (and vice versa)?
NB: Trips like these are great for building relationships and learning. There is unquantifiable value to meeting people face-to-face rather than just corresponding over email. It is also beneficial to NRG to see first-hand the environments our customers are working in so that we have a better perspective when developing products.
It also gives customers an opportunity to voice their concerns, challenges, and desires (and, hopefully, some praises, too!) and see that someone is listening. After the trip, it makes both parties more comfortable contacting each other to continue these discussion.
How do you see China’s needs evolving in the future?
NB: It’s hard to say. China’s wind industry is rapidly developing, and technology is always evolving. We may see some similar patterns to how the industry has evolved in other parts of the world. For example, their wind resource data standards may evolve so that they become more interested in higher accuracy sensors (e.g. the NRG Class 1 Anemometer) or remote sensing.
Currently, our biggest customers in China are heavily focused on wind resource assessment. I expect that at some point, we will see a shift from a large market for wind resource assessment tools to a greater market for wind plant optimization tools (turbine control sensors, etc.), as they move from pre-construction activities to operational activities.
Their needs will also evolve in response to other technological changes. For example, China’s cellular network has jumped from a 2G GSM network to an LTE network. Our Chinese customers currently use iPacks with 2G modems, but over time, the 2G network will become obsolete, and they will need iPacks with LTE modems. We are in the process of developing that technology and plan to introduce a 4G LTE iPack that utilizes a modem compatible with TDD type LTE networks in the near future.
What is NRG doing to keep up/get out ahead of these changes?
NB: I think regular communication is vital, along with continual market research. We have strong relationships with our dealers in China, and we need to be consistently and proactively reaching out to them to understand what their needs are, and what their customers’ needs are, both now and what they anticipate for the future. The upcoming iPack with an LTE modem is a good example. Through conversations with our dealers, we learned that the 2G network would be replaced, and we are making sure we have the next-generation technology available to our customers before the current technology stops working.
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