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Solar South of the Border

On a recent trip to Guadalajara, I was able to witness this first hand and dig into some of the details. I was invited to Guadalajara to deliver an address at the Universidad Panamericana’s XII Simposium Internacional de Ingeniería Civil, titled “LEED en Latinoamérica” and focused on the importance of using tools like Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design (LEED) and the Living Building Challenge to support the creation of high-performance building projects. While there, I also met with the Cámara Mexicana de la Industria de la Construcción (CMIC) Jalisco Energy and Environment Committee and conducted a videoconference on green building and sustainable forestry that was broadcast to Comisión Nacional Forestal (CONAFOR) staff in 18 Mexican states.

Solar South of the Border

a 168kW array installed as a shade structure for parking at the offices of the Comisión Nacional Forestal (CONAFOR). CONAFOR is the Mexican federal agency that oversees forestry throughout the country. Solar Oregon

By Alan Scott FAIA, The Cadmus Group
Solar Oregon Board Member

The trend toward sustainable development is truly international, making inroads in sectors from agriculture to manufacturing, buildings and energy. This is certainly true of our neighbors to the south. On a recent trip to Guadalajara, I was able to witness this first hand and dig into some of the details. I was invited to Guadalajara to deliver an address at the Universidad Panamericana’s XII Simposium Internacional de Ingeniería Civil, titled “LEED en Latinoamérica” and focused on the importance of using tools like Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design (LEED) and the Living Building Challenge to support the creation of high-performance building projects.

While industrialization and urbanization in Mexico over the last few decades has created new social and ecological problems, progress is being made in the areas of sustainable forestry, green building and renewable energy. Currently almost 20% of Mexico’s forests are under sustainable management, and the area is increasing. Mexico now  ranks seventh in the world among countries with Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design (LEED) certified buildings, with 322 buildings totaling 7.9 million square meters currently certified. Mexico also has a growing renewable energy industry.

While Mexico’s per capita electricity use is only 14.6% of the US usage (shame on US), over the past decade, electricity usage in Mexico has been increasing three times faster than in the US during the same period. Mexico’s grid is almost as carbon intensive as the US, with over 77% of their electricity coming from thermal generation (50% natural gas, 19% petroleum and 8% coal) and an average carbon intensity of 0.452 kg of CO2 per kWh (compared to 0.547 in the US).
Tapalpa

 More attention is needed in efficiency and renewable energy as Mexico’s economy expands and demand for energy increases. Currently, hydroelectric makes up about 19% of their generating capacity with non-hydro renewables (mostly geothermal) comprising only 3% of total production. Mexico has very little wind energy (0.11%) and solar has an even smaller share (~8 GWh, <0.01%). Up until recently, solar in Mexico was limited to remote pumping systems for livestock and irrigation. However, Mexico boasts the third largest solar potential in the world, estimated at 5kWh/m2 daily, equal to 50 times their total current generation of electricity.

The government of Mexico has committed to reducing carbon emissions by over 30% by the end of this decade and is promoting the development of wind and solar as an important part of meeting the country’s growing energy needs. One of the ways they are doing this is by making investments in renewable energy systems fully deductible on business income tax. Additionally, private foreign and domestic investment in Mexico’s renewable energy industry has been increasing. Sonora Energy is building the country’s first utility-scale solar plant, a 46.8 MW array scheduled to open this year in Puerto Libertad, Sonora.

During my visit, I had the opportunity to tour two smaller, but notable solar projects in Guadalajara, one commercial scale and one residential. The first was a 168kW array installed as a shade structure for parking at the offices of the Comisión Nacional Forestal (CONAFOR). CONAFOR is the Mexican federal agency that oversees forestry throughout the country. They are developing national standards for sustainable forestry as well as supporting internationally recognized forest certification by the Forest Stewardship Council. Using solar energy is a natural complement to these efforts.

The shade structures and solar array were installed last year by DMX, a Guadalajara-based, nationally recognized construction firm with a new focus on sustainability. The array is comprised of 700 Aleo Solar S18 240 Watt panels from Germany, with Fornius IG Plus inverters manufactured in Monterrey, MX. The installation was completed in February 2012, but I was not able to get performance data for the system.

The other installation was smaller, but no less significant. Santiago Orendain, one of the owners of DMX and founder of DMX Green, a new consulting venture, has a strong commitment to sustainability. Several years ago, he and his wife restored their beautiful urban home, originally designed by a student of Luis Barragán. They incorporated many energy saving features including operable exterior sun shades and efficient lighting and air conditioning systems. They topped this off recently with a 3.36 kW solar array comprised of 14 Solartec SM60MC 240w panels manufactured in Mexico and a Fornius IG inverter. The system produces about 3,720 kWh annually and their family of four uses approximately 3,000 kWh per year, so they are taking full advantage of net metering and now have a net-zero energy home, setting a great example for others. He noted that at the time of installation, he was one of only 70 utility customers in his three-state region using net metering. The meter reader was unfamiliar with this arrangement and assumed something was wrong when he observed negative usage in the reading from one month to the next. The system cost about four dollars (US) per watt installed and he expects a simple payback in less than seven years. He said that the same system would cost about $2.75 per watt today.

While still under construction, Guadalajara will soon have another exemplary project. A progressive developer is creating a mixed-use residential/commercial project overlooking the city’s Parque Metropolitano. The project is being constructed with insulating aerated concreted blocks and features passive cooling and lots of natural light. The apartments will be comfortable without an air conditioning system. Both solar thermal and photovoltaics are proposed for the project and the developer is seeking LEED certification.

Low energy prices, lack of consumer awareness and a limited number of qualified solar installers will slow the expansion of Mexico’s solar industry. However, with the price of domestically produced components falling, investments and incentives increasing and a growing awareness of the importance of both conservation and renewable energy, I expect to see Mexico become a global leader in solar energy in the near future.

 
 
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