Sinaí Casillas Cano
Director of Renewable Energies
State of Oaxaca

Oaxaca’s Great Renewable Resource Potential

Wed, 02/19/2014 - 12:36

The Isthmus of Tehuantepec, the narrowest region of Mexico, stretches across Oaxaca, Veracruz, Chiapas, and Tabasco. In this part of the country, the Pacific Ocean and the Gulf of Mexico are separated by only 215km. Around the Isthmus, warm maritime stream emerges, originating a thermic and pressure gradient that results in an intense northern wind from November to February. According to the Wind Resource Atlas of the state of Oaxaca, the best wind resources areas are located in the southern region of the Isthmus of Tehuantepec, along the coast and in the mountains, where the La Mata-La Ventosa wind park is located.

During the 1980s, the Electrical Research Institute (IIE) began studying the possibility of generating wind power in the region. However, it was not until 1992 when the legal framework modifications allowed the private sector to generate energy. “It was then that the wind industry was born in Mexico, it first happened in Oaxaca,” says Sinaí Casillas Cano, Director of Renewable Energies for the State of Oaxaca. “This experimental project – built by CFE using Vestas technology – was inaugurated in 1994 in La Ventosa and generated 1.5MW.”

However, wind energy developments did not take off until President Vicente Fox’s administration in the 2000s, when the first Open Season was launched, which created the necessary guarantees for companies to begin developing projects. Nowadays, the Isthmus of Tehuantepec has 17 wind farms with 1,600MW installed capacity, and many global companies have invested in the region such as Acciona, Vestas, Gamesa, Iberdrola, Energies Nouvelles and many others.

Today, Oaxaca produces 90% of Mexico’s wind energy, with 1,100 installed wind turbines occupying 13,000 hectares of land. Casillas Cano highlights the fact that to generate 1MW, 7 hectares are occupied at an average investment cost of US$2 million. “Oaxaca is a very interesting place for wind energy development since it has 4,500 wind hours a year, compared to European wind plant clusters which have 2,000-2,500 wind hours a year. It is profitable because renewable energy projects around the world recover their investment in 12 to 14 years on average, while wind energy projects in the Isthmus recover their investment in 8 years and most projects have 20-year agreements with the communities,” he adds.

Oaxaca also has a great hydro power resource. According to the National Meteorological Service, Oaxaca was among the five states with the most precipitation in Mexico during 2012 with an average of 1,360mm, while the state had the most accumulated precipitations in the country in Cerro del Oro with 4,362.4mm. “The state has eight regions and two of its regions – Sierra Sur y Sierra Norte – have very interesting river drops. There is a huge quantity of water in these regions as well as on the Papaloapan region, close to Veracruz, and along the coast,” points out Casillas Cano. Solar energy is another abundant but untapped resource in Oaxaca. Casillas Cano claims the federal government has tried to guide solar projects to the north of Mexico but Oaxaca has great potential in all of la Mixteca, Sierra Sur, the coast of the Isthmus of Tehuantepec, as well as the Valles Centrales region, a strip of 12,000km2 that has a solar resource of 5kWh/m2. Salina Cruz, for example, has an average of 5.8kWh/m2, while Hermosillo in Sonora has 6kWh/m2, with the latter being considered part of the Solar Belt of North America and a prime location for solar energy projects. “To put things into perspective, Germany has a 3kW/m2 potential and is a global power when it comes to solar energy,” says Casillas Cano.

Oaxaca has the ambition to become Mexico’s central production hub for a number of renewable energy sources, an aim that is coupled to the goal of developing technology locally. “This would allow us to consolidate the value chain, create jobs, and bring technologies to the local communities,” notes Casillas Cano. However, the Oaxaca’s greatest challenge may well be dealing with the 800 communities that still do not have access to electricity. Oaxaca has 12,000 communities, distributed across 570 municipalities and 16 ethnicities. Its topography has caused a dispersion of population, making it difficult and unprofitable for CFE to connect all communities to the electricity grid, especially since many of them are formed by only 10 to 15 houses. Renewable energy sources, and especially solar energy, provide hope for these communities.