Energy consultant outlines factors in entering export market

By Luke Geiver | February 13, 2012

Westar Trade Resource president and CEO, Cindy Thyfault, has some advice for U.S.-based renewable energy companies looking to enter the global marketplace.

During a webinar presented by Westar titled “Problems and Opportunities in Capturing the Global Market,” Thyfault outlined a number of mistakes often made by companies looking to export renewable energy technology, services or products. “A lot of these things are happening over and over again,” she said. One of those mistakes is learning the language, culture and history of a country of interest, she said, advising developers to skip the travel books.

Working with the proper people is also a crucial piece to export markets. “A lot of times you start working in a country and there are lots of folks who want to be your agent, or your distributor or your broker,” she said. “But they don’t have the business connections so you end up working through five or six people.” To avoid the unnecessary interaction with unqualified representatives, Thyfault suggested working with the U.S. Department of Commerce. The DOC has a gold key program in which the agency will arrange meetings and appointments with applicable representatives from potential partners. Anyone can sign up for the program. International lawyers and resumé checking are a imperative, she cautioned.

Thyfault also warned of positive market forecasts. When companies begin to search for international opportunities, they begin opening themselves up to several market locations and potential partnering situations. Opportunities are everywhere, she said, and things can appear to happen very quickly in multiple locations. “But I think in international business, things take twice as long and are twice as hard,” she said. She added that it’s important to forecast out for the long-term basis and not expect quick returns because of the varying regulatory climates and procedural requirements that need to be overcome for a partnership or a contract to form.

The U.S. national export initiative can provide a project financing alternative to expiring or expired federal loan and tax incentives, according to Thyfault. It also provides a growth opportunity for companies in the renewable energy space looking to export. Money is available through the Export-Import Bank of the U.S., she pointed out, signaling the U.S. government’s objective to double exports within five years and add 2 million jobs, all while providing or improving access to credit for companies that want to export.

The Export-Import Bank offers several programs to help businesses enter the international export sector. The bank’s programs feature year round access to financing, and up to 90 percent of a project is eligible. The working capital guarantee program available for U.S.-based manufacturers, exporters or service providers that have a one-year operating history and a positive net worth, is a great financial vehicle for companies in search of funding to finance an export contract or plan. The opportunity presented by the Export-Import Bank can be seen through the agency’s renewable energy export portfolio since 2010, she added. In 2010, the portfolio tripled in size to $330 million awarded to renewable energy export projects. That number doubled in 2011, reaching $721 million.