Latin America's largest solar park turns Mexican desert green

July 13, 2018 by Yussel Gonzalez
The Villanueva photovoltaic (PV) power plant is the biggest solar project in the world outside China and India

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 percent 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 criticized 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 , Antonio Cammisecra.

"Since the reform, we see better market conditions and potential for a company like ours."

When the plant reaches full capacity, it will supply enough electricity to power 1.3 million homes
Cutting costs

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 and price plunge are together reshaping the solar market in Mexico.

"Before the reform, it was an environmental issue," said Victor Ramirez, executive director of the National Solar Energy Association.

"Today, it's not just about the environment, it's about economics. If solar sources are cheaper, investment is going to gravitate there."

The new opportunities are attracting international interest.

Besides the $650-million Villanueva project, Enel has another solar park and is building two wind farms.

Last May it pledged an additional $97 million in investment to expand its projects in Mexico.

Spain's Iberdrola is building two solar parks, Dutch firm Alten is building another, and British-backed Atlas Renewable Energy recently acquired yet another.

"Mexico has world-class solar resources," said Camilo Serrano, Atlas's general manager for Mexico.

"The potential is absolutely proven, and investors' appetite is obvious in the auctions."

Electric interest

The auctions have so far raised an estimated $8.6 billion in investment.

Mexican Energy Minister Pedro Joaquin Coldwell recently said they would lead to the construction of 40 solar parks and 25 wind projects.

Mexico, which had nine solar parks in 2015, aims to have 68 by 2021, he added.

Three auctions have been held so far. The production price offered by electricity suppliers has dropped from $50 per megawatt-hour to $20.

Thanks to the program, Mexico is now on the top 10 list of countries with the most clean investment, according to the government—which predicts the price plunge will continue at the next auction, slated for November.

Explore further: Mexico auctions six of nine major deep-water oil blocks

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dirk_bruere
3 / 5 (4) Jul 13, 2018
WTF is the "standard home" in kW? What is a "football field" in hectares? Is this a scitech site or some 1950s patronizing womens magazine? USE STANDARD SCIENCE UNITS
Shakescene21
5 / 5 (8) Jul 13, 2018
Amazing. A few years ago this would have been considered science fiction.

It appears that in this case solar electricity is cheaper than fossil fuels. As Mr. Ramirez said:

"Today, it's not just about the environment, it's about economics. If solar sources are cheaper, investment is going to gravitate there."

This should be the model for most developing countries, rather than coal electric plants.
JamesG
1.4 / 5 (9) Jul 13, 2018
But their people won't stay around to use it. They're all coming here. I guess it'll keep the drug labs running though.
antialias_physorg
4 / 5 (12) Jul 13, 2018
I'm still waiting when one of these countries to take the next step and become a huge energy exporter. There's plenty of third world countries with abundant sunshine. I think they could make a killing if they were the first to produce hydrogen in vast quantities and ship it around the world (e.g. as a replacement for shipping or airline fuels)

It appears that in this case solar electricity is cheaper than fossil fuels.

The funny thing is that if one looks at the real cost of fossil fuels (unsubsidized) then PV has been cheaper for quite some time.
https://www.imf.o...es-42940
PV beats fossil fuels even if one were to ignore all the hidden costs in military spending, healthcare and global warming damages (and why should one ignore those costs?)
Mark Thomas
5 / 5 (8) Jul 13, 2018
This photovoltaic revolution has been a long time in coming. The key is the shocking amount of energy in sunlight. By my back of the envelope calculations, the average square meter of Earth receives over 1,400 KWh/year or about $30 worth of recoverable energy at 20% efficiency per year. So the average acre gets about $120,000 per year in clean energy, and that is probably doubled or more in the desert location above. Now you can begin to understand why there are solar panels stretching as far as the eye can see in the photograph above.

rrwillsj
2.3 / 5 (9) Jul 14, 2018
Don't worry Mark, about Mexico becoming a an energy exporter.

We will just steal it from them like we do everything else.

Their territory. Their oil. Their minerals. Their agricultural products. Their labor. Their manpower to fight our wars.

Our lust for their drugs subsidizes our gun industry.

And now? Their children. To be sold to Trump's good buddies the Kremlin mafia and Saudis for the international sex slave trade.

Cause, hey! Our Peculiar Institution is the White Christian American Way.

""Pobre México! Tan lejos de Dios. Tan cerca de los Estados Unidos."
Anonym
1.6 / 5 (7) Jul 15, 2018
"Most of the world's population live in areas with insolation levels of 150–300 watts/m²" - Wikipedia

O happy day! Free energy! No muss, no fuss!

Ever see a residential solar installation? It requires big batteries. Lots of them. They are nasty, nasty, nasty. CO2 is cotton-candy compared to the awful smelly dirty chemical mess that comprises the battery bank of even a modest residential setup. Don't tell me this is "clean" energy. It's real ugly energy.

Solar is useful of course, but not a panacea as supporters (corporate shills many of them) claim. The grid must be powered 24/7. Our legacy, plant-food-emitting power plants have to be maintained in constant readiness to "fill in" for the wildly fluctuating output of solar and wind generators. This is like benching the first string players in favor of the walk-ons, but of course, still paying the marquee talent their salaries. Notice that there is no push for solar water heating, which is clean but not profitable.
Shakescene21
4.6 / 5 (10) Jul 15, 2018
@anonym - you may prefer "plant-food-emitting power plants" over residential solar but your comments are irrelevant to this article, which is about industrial-scale photovoltaic power plants. Your comments are canned spam that you apparently drop into discussion threads wherever you can do it.

Do you get paid by the fossil-fuel industry to spread their propaganda?
greenonions1
4.6 / 5 (9) Jul 15, 2018
Anonym
Don't tell me this is "clean" energy. It's real ugly energy
Perhaps Anonym would like to point us to the 'clean energy' system that he/she is advocating over solar panels....
antialias_physorg
4.2 / 5 (10) Jul 15, 2018
plant-food-emitting power plants

You don't really know how plants work, do you?

I mean, this is stuff one should learn in school. Did you go to school? Sure doesn't sound like it.
antigoracle
1.6 / 5 (7) Jul 15, 2018
Do you get paid by the fossil-fuel industry to spread their propaganda?
-- Another Chicken Little Jackass brays.
So, where does the fossil-fuel industry get this money, if not from jackasses like you, who pay them for their fuel so that you can burn it.
Could you please provide the contact information for any of them.

Now, you can put up or just continue to bray that piece of AGW Cult propaganda. Run along jackass.
rrwillsj
3.2 / 5 (5) Jul 15, 2018
auntieoral and her chicken-sexing fetish, brays again!
WillieWard
1.7 / 5 (6) Jul 15, 2018
"desert land is special, and must also be protected"
Destroying the planet to save it.
With Eco-nuts as friends, Nature doesn't need enemies.
https://3c1703fe8...lant.jpg
PTTG
4.3 / 5 (6) Jul 15, 2018
Hey, willie, find me a place to keep all the nuclear waste and you got a deal.

I find it so strange that people actually identify with electricity sources. The response to this stuff is like someone saying that their favorite sports team is going to lose to their long-term rivals.
arcmetal
4.6 / 5 (9) Jul 15, 2018
...

I find it so strange that people actually identify with electricity sources. The response to this stuff is like someone saying that their favorite sports team is going to lose to their long-term rivals.

lol, I have noticed the same and have wondered what kind of person would cheer for dirty fuels that change the climate. I say, put them all under one giant dome city, fill it with their oil and coal plants, and leave the rest of the planet with a clean and stable atmosphere.

It is good to see a developing nation advancing this ideal.
antigoracle
1.7 / 5 (6) Jul 16, 2018
...

I find it so strange that people actually identify with electricity sources. The response to this stuff is like someone saying that their favorite sports team is going to lose to their long-term rivals.

lol, I have noticed the same and have wondered what kind of person would cheer for dirty fuels that change the climate. I say, put them all under one giant dome city, fill it with their oil and coal plants, and leave the rest of the planet with a clean and stable atmosphere.

It is good to see a developing nation advancing this ideal.
--Another Braying Chicken Little Jackass
I know exactly, what kind of hypocrite would believe that "dirty" fuels are changing the climate, yet continue to burn it and then bray like a jackass.
If not true, then please share with us, when and how you stopped burning "dirty" fossil fuels, so that us heretics can join you in saving the world. Thanks.

antialias_physorg
4.2 / 5 (10) Jul 16, 2018
have wondered what kind of person would cheer for dirty fuels

The type that gets paid for it?

People will do anything for 50cent. Including selling their own species out.
WillieWard
2 / 5 (4) Jul 16, 2018
...find me a place to keep all the nuclear waste and you got a deal...
Put it in my backyard. It's safer than mercury(teratogen) in coal ashes and arsenide and other chemical carcinogens present in solar panels that never lose their toxicity with time.
https://pbs.twimg...XC-4.jpg
https://pbs.twimg...NTAV.jpg
https://pbs.twimg...jmtY.jpg

"Germany has more than 28,000 wind turbines — but many are old and by 2023 more than a third must be decommissioned. Disposing of them is a huge environmental problem. Expert Jan Tessmer tells DW he's optimistic."
https://www.dw.co...44665439
"Experts forecast hundreds of thousands of tons of old wind turbine blades, batteries, and solar modules will need to be disposed of or recycled in the next decade—and millions of tons by 2050."
https://cen.acs.o...s/96/i15
WillieWard
2 / 5 (4) Jul 16, 2018
have wondered what kind of person would cheer for dirty fuels
Solar/wind cultists talk as if sunshine&breeze unicorn energy were alternative to dirty fossil fuels, but in the real world, after hundreds/thousands of gigawatts of installed-capacity of intermittent renewables at cost of trillions of dollars and huge ecological impacts, it can be clearly noticed that wind/solar are just providing "greenwashing" (decorative facade) for the coal/oil/gas industries in order to displace carbon-free nuclear energy, which is a crime in the face of Climate Change.
"More Wind and Solar Power Perversely Locks In Fossil Fuel Generation"
https://reason.co...nd-solar
https://www.forbe...pensive/
"Those that believe solar and wind energy are clean, should tour the mining/manufacturing/transportation/installation operations."
Shakescene21
5 / 5 (3) Jul 16, 2018
@antigoricle;
My electric company has built a very profitable and politically powerful company ( a "regulated monopoly") by selling electricity generated from coal, nuclear, and gas. Until recently Dominion Electric has beaten back all efforts by the public to get some of this electricity from solar and wind. (Other than a few small token efforts.) Dominion even made it harder for residential solar hookups.

Finally, the company starting to change its ways and less and less of the electricity I buy will have to come from fossil fuels.

https://www.domin...neration

I would like to think that Dominion Energy has joined "the AGW cult", along with more than 90% of scientists. Maybe political pressure has something to do with this. But a major factor is the rapidly falling cost of solar energy, as is shown in this article.
antigoracle
1.8 / 5 (5) Jul 16, 2018
@antigoricle;
My electric company has built a very profitable and politically powerful company ( a "regulated monopoly") by selling electricity generated from coal, nuclear, and gas....HAWW...HEE...HAWW...HEEE
-- The Chicken Little Jackass brays.
It is ALWAYS someone else and NEVER the Chicken Little's fault.
Hey Jackass, have you reduced your power consumption, so that you can cut your CO2 footprint?
Why do you dodge the question of how much gasoline/diesel you burn?

Keep braying Jackass, you'll save the world.
rrwillsj
2.6 / 5 (5) Jul 16, 2018
if weewilliewinkie and her auntieoral actually believed the afitprop they are paid to spew? And shared the brains of a turnip between themselves? They would cheer on wind and solar projects as helping to subsidize and prop up their obsolete employers for a few more years.

But then, weewilliewinkie and auntieoral are not just cheap whores? Oh no! They are stupid cheap whores. Who are doing a lousy job propagandizing for their Saudi and Russian masters.
RealityCheck
3.7 / 5 (3) Jul 16, 2018
@antigoracle.

You come across as being naive and/or biased; with your repeated insensitive 'Chicken Little' characterization/insult of those affected by AGW even as we speak (eg, widespread extreme unprecedented floods in Japan); and your even lamer 'What are you doing to reduce your fossil fuel-burning?' challenge/criticisms of those of those doing their best to get their governments to remove the longstanding 'stranglehold' which they have allowed fossil plants to enjoy while sabotaging and/or delaying action which would replace a lot of fossil fuel burning with cheaper, cleaner renewable energy harvesting projects. It's the ld/existing monopolistic power/capture over/of consumers that is preventing progress being faster and options for individuals being more available/affordable when it comes to reducing fossil fuel 'forced' dependency/use. That has been the strategy of the fossil lobby/corrupt GOP politicians/Russian Troll-factory campaigns for decades now.

Wise up. :)
arcmetal
5 / 5 (5) Jul 16, 2018

... of those doing their best to get their governments to remove the longstanding 'stranglehold' which they have allowed fossil plants to enjoy while sabotaging and/or delaying action which would replace a lot of fossil fuel burning with cheaper, cleaner renewable energy harvesting projects. It's the ld/existing monopolistic power/capture over/of consumers that is preventing progress ...


Luckily, as this article shows, the more advanced governments (or rather the ones that aren't afraid) are advancing in the right direction. It is by their example that the rest will learn the benefits of clean power, and that there has always been a near infinite source of energy up in the sky this whole time.

I don't believe that anyone needs to fear the dystopian future we could have had with a continued use of fossil fuels.
Shakescene21
5 / 5 (5) Jul 17, 2018
@antigoricle: I "dodged" your question because it's not relevant to this article, which is about a new photovoltaic power plant and Mexico's rapidly falling cost of electricity from this source. And because you're a vulgar jerk who is trying to disrupt this discussion.

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