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News Article

Opinions Differ on What Caused Major Blackout

By Cas Biekmann | Wed, 12/30/2020 - 11:23

Monday’s blackout, which left 10.3 million people in the dark, occurred because of a fire caused by winds in a municipality 20 km away from Victoria, Tamaulipas, CFE explained yesterday night. However, CFE Director General Manuel Bartlett blames the event on an aggregation of unfortunate circumstances. CENACE and other CFE figureheads point to renewable energy as the cause for the imbalance. Other experts doubt this explanation.

Noé Peña, Corporate Director of Transmission at CFE, explained that fires caused ionization in the air, leading to a fault in the conductors of the transmission and distribution lines. With the lines going out of service, the flow of 900MW from Monterrey to Tampico was interrupted. This, in turn caused deficits between demand and generation in the northeast of Mexico, destabilizing the entire system.

However, El Financiero consulted Pedro Granados Ramírez, Civil Protection Coordinator in Tamaulipas, who said he was not aware of the fire not of an official letter presenting the facts coming from CFE. “Actually, the timeframe and the way in which the event occurred as stated in this document, we are not aware of it,” he said.

Carlos Meléndez, Director of CENACE, argued that the system was weakened due to the high amount of renewable energy generation. “We had a historical intermittent renewable generation integration of 28.13 percent on the day of the event,” he said yesterday, adding that this integration of external power producers, along with the faltering lines, led to instability.

Guillermo Arizmendi, CFE's Corporate Director of Planning, added to the discussion in a virtual conference, according to Energía a Debate. Arizmendi noted that because of the failure, CFE needs to examine intermittent energy generation from external players more closely. “It forces us to study two simultaneous failures in the electrical power systems and obviously to put intermittent generation on the study route. This, faced with a minimum demand on this occasion, forces us to take action to strengthen the National Electric System,” he said.

El Financiero consulted various experts, who noted that Mexico’s renewable participation is still quite low compared to various European countries. Analysts such as Lourdes Melgar at MIT and Paul Sánchez, Professor at Tecnológico de Monterrey, argue that renewable energy is being blamed as a result of political rhetoric rather than technical arguments. “I am not satisfied on a technical level with the explanation. I believe that they are showing off the situation to alter the discourse regarding renewables and thereby reduce the participation of these sources to increase the participation of CFE's base generation," Sánchez said.

Regarding the blackout’s origin, experts again point to an overload in the transmission network, facing issues because of age and oversaturation. “There is a basic problem, which is that the transmission and distribution lines are very old. This is the result of a lack of investment that has been going on for a long time. It is not the fault of this government; it comes from before. We must be aware that the system needs investment in these areas,” commented Paolo Salerno, Partner at Salerno y Asociados. “It is necessary to resume the authorized projects of expansion of the network, particularly in affected regions such as Tamaulipas or Sonora-Sinaloa and verify compliance with the network code of the plants,” agreed Casiopea Ramírez, Partner at Fresh Energy Consulting.

The data used in this article was sourced from:  
El Financiero, Energía a Debate, CFE, CENACE
Cas Biekmann Cas Biekmann Journalist and Industry Analyst