Latam’s largest so­lar park turns Mex­i­can desert green

Oman Daily Observer - - ANALYSIS - YUSSEL GON­ZA­LEZ

Driv­ing through the end­less dunes and cacti of the Chi­huahuan desert in north­ern Mex­ico, a shim­mer­ing blue field sud­denly ap­pears on the hori­zon — not a mi­rage, but the largest so­lar park in Latin Amer­ica. This silent stretch of sand in the state of Coahuila is the spot the Ital­ian en­ergy gi­ant Enel picked to build the Vil­lanueva power plant: 2.3 million so­lar pan­els that sprawl across a sun-soaked area the size of 2,200 foot­ball fields. When the plant reaches full ca­pac­ity later this year, it will sup­ply enough elec­tric­ity to power 1.3 million homes. It is the big­gest so­lar project in the world out­side China and India. The pan­els are de­signed to turn in tan­dem with the sun, like a field of metal­lic sun­flow­ers.

They are part of Mex­ico’s push to gen­er­ate 35 per cent of its elec­tric­ity from clean sources by 2024. Mex­ico won plau­dits from en­vi­ron­men­tal­ists in 2015 when it be­came the first emerg­ing coun­try to an­nounce its emis­sions re­duc­tion tar­gets for the United Na­tions cli­mate ac­cord, am­bi­tiously vow­ing to halve them by 2050.

A key part of that push is a sweep­ing en­ergy re­form un­der­taken in 2013. One of out­go­ing Pres­i­dent En­rique Pena Ni­eto’s sig­na­ture ini­tia­tives, it was ini­tially crit­i­cised by pres­i­dent-elect An­dres Manuel Lopez Obrador, who will take of­fice on De­cem­ber 1.

But the anti-es­tab­lish­ment leftist has warmed to the over­haul, and an­a­lysts now say it is likely here to stay. The re­form made global head­lines for re­open­ing Mex­ico’s oil sec­tor to for­eign com­pa­nies af­ter 76 years of state mo­nop­oly. A lesser-known — but per­haps ul­ti­mately more im­por­tant — as­pect was to al­low pri­vate com­pa­nies to gen­er­ate and sup­ply elec­tric­ity.

Un­der the new law, Mex­ico is now hold­ing clean-en­ergy auc­tions in which pri­vate com­pa­nies bid to pro­duce and sell elec­tric­ity on an open mar­ket. “We’re very happy with the busi­ness en­vi­ron­ment and op­por­tu­ni­ties that ex­ist in Mex­ico,” said Enel’s global di­rec­tor for re­new­able en­ergy, Antonio Cam­mise­cra.

“Since the re­form, we see bet­ter mar­ket con­di­tions and po­ten­tial for a com­pany like ours.” Projects like this are also ben­e­fit­ting from a sharp drop in prices for so­lar tech­nol­ogy in re­cent years. “Pho­to­voltaic so­lar en­ergy is the fastest-grow­ing en­ergy in the world. And that is driv­ing tech­nol­ogy in­no­va­tors,” said Ar­turo Gar­cia, an en­ergy spe­cial­ist at the in­ter­na­tional con­sult­ing firm Deloitte. The en­ergy re­form and price plunge are to­gether re­shap­ing the so­lar mar­ket in Mex­ico.

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