The country has the potential for more companies to invest in clean energy, such as solar and wind, but it’s lacking the political will.
The G-20 countries allocated 130 billion dollars to subsidize fossil fuels in 2019. Mexico, in particular, invested 17 billion dollars in public resources for hydrocarbons that year. Despite the urgent need to move toward a low-carbon economy, the Mexican government shows no signs of changing its strategy.
Construction of the Olmeca Refinery (formerly Dos Bocas) in Tabasco and support directed toward strengthening Petróleos Mexicanos mean that, “we are going against international trends with respect to renewable energies,” warns Dr. Francisco Lozano García, member of the Research Group on Energy and Climate Change at Tecnológico de Monterrey.
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Countries whose economies are based on coal, such as China and Morocco, are massively implementing photovoltaic cells and wind farms to reduce their dependency on fossil fuels.
Mexico, on the other hand, encourages the extraction of oil (at 42% of total production) and gas (40%).
“The current government initiatives to support the production of hydrocarbons mean that Mexico is setting back its ability to receive important private investments,” the specialist says.
But this setback isn’t going to prevent the country from moving toward transitioning sooner or later because the world is already heading toward a low-carbon economy.
The country has many opportunities to diversify its renewable energy basket and produce solar, wind, and biomass energy.
These options are addressed in the book Energy Issues and Transition to a Low Carbon Economy: Insights from Mexico, from the Strategies for Sustainability series by publisher Springer, of which Francisco Lozano García is co-editor, as a lot of experience and knowledge has been generated about the topic in the academic field.
This book is the result of the Bi-National Laboratory on Smart Sustainable Energy Management and Technology Training project from the National Council of Science and Technology (Conacyt) and the Secretariat of Energy (Sener), which has granted resources for the first time to Tecnologico de Monterrey as a private institution.
The Mexican government, according to the specialist, doesn’t have the technical capacity, the infrastructure, or the trained personnel to encourage renewable energies, but it can establish clear and transparent public policies, fiscal laws, and regulations so that private initiative can do so.
The adoption of new technologies to produce renewable energy is a process that will take at least three decades, says Lozano García, who holds a Ph.D. in chemical engineering from the University of Birmingham. This is because the technologies need to mature to the level in which investment costs are lower, but we shouldn’t wait any longer for that to occur.
Mexico could be a world power in the production of solar energy. For example, solar concentrators can be placed in the states that are above the Tropic of Cancer: Zacatecas, Sinaloa, Tamaulipas, San Luis Potosí, Baja California, Baja California Sur, Sonora, Chihuahua, Coahuila, and Nuevo León.
“They are towers that concentrate light and reach 900,000 degrees in temperature, enough energy to generate electricity. This is in addition to the better-known photovoltaic cells,” he says.
Mexico has very significant wind potential in places such as the Isthmus of Tehuantepec (in Oaxaca, Veracruz, Tabasco, and Chiapas), in Saltillo, Coahuila, and in Mexicali, Baja California.
The waste from agave, barley, corn, pecans, rice, sugar cane, sorghum, and wheat can be used to generate energy as we produce approximately 50 million tons per year of these types of agricultural waste.
Thanks to the Geographic Information System, we know the amounts generated per municipality. The proposal is to build and concentrate plants in the places where waste is produced so that energy is produced right there according to the type of waste.
Corn is a very efficient crop since 900 grams of corn stover are obtained for each kilo, and the states of Jalisco, Sinaloa, Guanajuato, and Michoacán are important corn producers.
“You cannot use everything, you have to leave a certain amount so that the soil doesn’t erode, but estimates are that up to 60% can be used for energy production,” says the expert.
Veracruz and Jalisco produce sugar cane, part of which is currently used by the Kimberly Clark company to make paper, but the sugar mills also use it to produce their own electrical energy.
Wheat cultivation in Sinaloa and Sonora yields wheat straw, and Michoacán, Puebla, and Hidalgo cultivate minor crops such as barley.
This biomass isn’t enough to supply all of Mexico’s energy demand, but it can contribute.
Starting in 1992, the Mexican government implemented a self-sufficiency outline with the idea that the private sector would expand its capacity.
As the companies invested in infrastructure, energy transmission fees were set up by agreement between the private sector and the government, which the federal government now argues is to the detriment of the Federal Electricity Commission (CFE).
The academic is surprised by the attacks on those Mexican companies such as Bimbo, Grupo Alfa, CEMEX, and FEMSA that have chosen to diversify their energy options.
“If there have been problems with the initial contracts, the laws, regulations, or tax rates, they can be corrected, but they shouldn’t be eliminated as a result. Let’s make sure everyone wins with clear and transparent rules,” he says.