Chihuahua emerges as Mexico's new solar Mecca

Wednesday, December 31, 2014

The northern Mexican state of Chihuahua is emerging as the country's new solar Mecca, with the approval of a slew of small-producer projects to be built in 2015.

Mexico's energy regulatory commission (CRE) has in the last year approved permits for the construction of six solar projects in Chihuahua.

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The projects include two 30MW plants to be built in Ojinaga and Casas Grandes, close to the US border, by Desarrollos Solares Nacut.

In late December, the environment and natural resources ministry Semarnat approved the construction of the US$39mn Santos Solares I and II plants for offtakers Leoni, a cable manufacturer in the city of Cuauhtémoc, and the northern campuses of La Salle university.

The farms, to be built on a 247a plot in Ahumada municipality, will feature 74,000 panels supplied by Astroenergy, and will be constructed and operated by Santos Solar. Public consultation of the project remains open until mid-January.

Ahumada was chosen as the site for the solar project due to its existing fiber optic infrastructure and the optimum climatic, topographic and meteorological conditions, according to the environmental impact study carried out by Semarnat.

Chihuahua had lagged behind other states in solar development, despite boasting high levels of irradiation and housing part of the Chihuahua desert, the second largest in North America and which also encompasses the states of Coahuila, Zacatecas, Nuevo León and parts of New Mexico and Texas.

The northwestern state of Sonora has so far dominated solar growth in Mexico, a sector in which capacity could grow 20-fold over the next five years, according to researchers.

Sonora, with a solar irradiation level of 6KWh/m2/d, could produce enough electricity to power the whole country, according to Camilo Arancibia, a researcher at the Universidad Nacional Autónoma's renewable energy institute.

Mexico has a 5.5KWh/m2/d generation potential, among the world's highest, according to studies carried out by the meteorological service (SMN), and harnessing 1,793km2 of land for solar generation could produce enough energy to power the country twice over, Arancibia said.

The CRE has so far authorized more than 50 solar projects under the small-producer model, with a self-supply capacity totaling 1.4GW. However, Mexico currently has only 19.7MW of installed solar capacity, compared with Germany's 3,800MW.