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Mexico's La Paz on track to become a 100% solar-powered city

Bnamericas Published: Thursday, January 08, 2015

The Mexican city of La Paz, capital of Baja California Sur state, is set to become the country's first 100% daytime solar-powered city.

The city's advantages for harnessing solar power are its high levels of irradiation and its isolation from the national grid, given its location at the southern tip of the peninsula, Santiago Lobeira, en environmentalist and founder of environmental consultancy Sustena.com, said in an interview with Radio Fórmula.

Lobeira said that the city could be a worldwide success story, although the power La Paz consumed at night would not be solar-produced.

Generating electricity in La Paz is very costly due to its isolation, making it similar to an island, and which makes it the focus of interest for solar development in Mexico, he told the radio station.

The local grid is isolated and small, and if a large part of the energy injected into it were solar, it could easily be destabilized by clouds, and the project would therefore need to have a storage capacity of more than 11MW, which would be one of the world's largest, Lobeira said.

In December, Spanish renewable energy firm Grupotec began work on a 27.6MW plant in La Paz, Grupotec I, which will make the city 100%-solar powered when it comes on line later this year.

Around 64% of La Paz's residents, some 164,000 people, currently receive their electric power from the 39MW Aura Solar I plant that came on line last March. Owned by Corporación Aura Solar, the US$100mn plant was built by Portugal's Martifer Sola and is operated by Mexico City-based Gauss Energía.

Billed as Latin America's largest grid-connected PV plant, Aura Solar I has a 20-year power purchasing agreement (PPA) with state-owned electric utility CFE. The plant comprises 132,000 solar panels and has an operational lifespan estimated at 30 years. It is forecast to offset 60,000t/y of CO2 of emissions.

The US$60mn Grupotec I plant will comprise 97,000 panels on a 44ha site, reducing the city's CO2 emissions by 39,000t/y, Grupotec's president Olallo Villaldo was quoted by local media as saying.

Construction of Grupotec I will create 350 jobs and 20 permanent positions once the plant is operational.

Mexico could become 100% solar powered, according to researchers, with its solar generation capacity growing 20-fold over the next five years thanks to US$3bn in investment, according to the VP of the country's solar power association Anes, Alberto Valdés.

Harnessing the potential of just 1,793km2 of land would produce enough energy to power the country twice over, while surplus power could be stored and exported, according to Camilo Arancibia, a researcher at the Universidad Nacional Autónoma's renewable energy institute.

Mexico will emerge as the leading solar market in Latin America over the next few years, eclipsing Chile and Brazil as the energy reform brings renewed certainty in addressing the challenges that persist, such as securing offtakers and financing, Adam James, a solar analyst at GTM Research, told BNamericas in October.

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