Rodrigo Osorio
CEO
Urban Labs Holding
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Expert Contributor

Baja California Sur Electrical System: Challenges, Opportunities

By Rodrigo Osorio | Tue, 06/21/2022 - 11:00

The National Electrical System (NES) is made up of four electrical systems: the National Interconnected System (NIS), the large electrical network that goes from Puerto Peñasco to Cancun; the Baja California Electric System, electrically isolated from the SIN and interconnected to the western grid of the US; the Baja California Sur Electric System (BCSES), which is independent from the SIN and BC, and finally, the Mulege Electric System, electrically isolated from the other electric systems.

Due to its geographical characteristics, Baja California Sur is the only state in the country that is not connected to the NES. The state has two electrical systems, the Baja California Sur Electrical System, with cover from Loreto to Los Cabos, and the Mulege Electrical System, located in the northern part of the state.

Ninety-five percent of the electrical energy of the BCSES during 2019 was generated with CFE units.[1]  The BCSES had a Maximum Integrated Demand of 513MW in 2020.[2] Currently, the Federal Electricity Commission (CFE) has a total of 638MW in the following plants in the state: Punta Prieta (1104MW), Los Cabos (84MW), Mobile Emergency Unity Los Cabos (74MW), La Paz (25MW), Constitucion (28MW), Baja California Sur Internal Combustion Plant (188MW), Internal Combustion Plant San Carlos (93MW), Mobile Emergency Unit Baja California Sur (26MW), Los Cabos/Emergency Mobile Unit (17MW). [3]

The main consumption is in the Los Cabos area (San Jose del Cabo and Cabo San Lucas), while generation comes mainly from La Paz. Ciudad Constitucion serves as a provider of surpluses to La Paz and La Paz provides surpluses to Los Cabos. Los Cabos and La Paz have high consumption due to the tourist activity in the area. The areas of Comondu, Mulege and Loreto are dedicated to primary activities. Their greatest consumption of electrical energy is in the agricultural sector and in water pumping.

There are two private initiatives in La Paz: Aura Solar I, with 39MW and Aura Solar III, with 32MW, which includes a storage capacity of 10.5MW/ 7MWh with lithium-ion batteries. It is the first storage solution for large-scale projects in Latin America.

The state's energy matrix runs on fuel oil and diesel, which have high transportation costs. Compared to the rest of the country, this electricity system has a very high dependence on heavy fuel oil with high sulfur content. In 2019, fuel oil covered approximately 87 percent of the demand for this service. [4]

The high sulfur content of this fuel generates severe levels of air pollution that affect the health of the population and the environment. This problem is more evident in the municipality of La Paz, which generates more than 85 percent of the electricity consumed in the BCSES and through which the largest volume of fuels is supplied throughout the state. Twenty-five percent of the infrastructure in Punta Prieta is over 30 years old. Having fulfilled its useful life, this area generates a great deal of pollution and there are risks in its operation. [5]

There are permanent campaigns by civil organizations in Baja California Sur that criticize the poor quality of the air and demand the installation of renewable plants throughout the peninsula. The Management Program to Improve the Air of the State of Baja California Sur (Proaire BCS), based on the Inventory of Pollutant Emissions into the Atmosphere for the State of Baja California Sur, indicates that electricity generation is responsible for 92 percent of emissions of sulfur dioxide (SO2) throughout the state. [6]

On the other hand, as a result of the lack of diversification in fuels, the state has the most expensive electricity generation in the country. The average price of the BCSES is four times higher than the national average. The prices of the wholesale electricity market in 2020 were US$30/MWh on average for the entire country and US$110/MWh on average for Baja California Sur.[7]

The Baja California Sur Peninsula has little generation capacity, which means that the technical limits of the system are frequently exceeded to cover demand. At certain times of the summer, blackouts are relatively common in some areas of the state. In 2019, there were 81 interruptions or outages in the service without prior notice, affecting more than 200,000 users and causing severe economic losses.

The blackouts have drawn protests from business groups in the state. In response, in December 2019, the Baja California Sur Energy Committee was established, made up of representatives of the political, business and civil sectors of Baja California Sur, with the aim of coordinating the energy development of the state with the federal government and CFE.

There is a risk that this situation will repeat itself and increase social unrest, since Baja California Sur is a state with dynamic population and economic growth. It is one of the states with the highest rate of population growth; the national average in Mexico from 2015 to 2020 was 1 percent, while in this state, it was 2.3 percent. [8] On the other hand, in 2018, before the pandemic, Baja California Sur was among the states reporting the highest annual growth in its GDP in real terms, with a rate of 17.2 percent.[9]

Given the progress made in the epidemiological crisis and the opportunity for Baja California Sur to receive a greater number of tourists than it did in 2020 and 2021, in 2022, there could be blackouts due to the floating population of tourism that will visit the state from March to July.

In this overview there is good news: Baja California Sur is an ideal place to build an energy transition model, as it has high solar and wind potential, especially on the west coast.

The wind generation is nocturnal, beginning to grow at noon. The hours of generation range from 3 p.m. to 6 a.m. and it has its maximum generation at 9 p.m. The increase in generation at 3 p.m. coincides with the “Solar Duck Curve,” which helps to compensate for solar output and coincides with the hours of maximum generation. From 6 to 9 a.m., the consumption ranks between 375 and 408MW when the wind drops and there is no sun and the lowest part of the demand curve occurs.[10]

This state is also an extraordinary area for solar technology, as it has five peak solar hours. Just with solar panels on a small scale, it would be possible to supply two-thirds of the week in Baja California Sur. [11]

Distributed solar generation (DG) has multiple benefits. It saves costs of centralized generation and transmission. This advantage is particularly important for the entity, since the transmission infrastructure that links the La Paz area with the Los Cabos area supports the excessive loads that the resorts require during the summer. DG in Los Cabos would help defer investments in transmission infrastructure. The marginal costs of DG tend to zero and are immediately affordable for consumers. Distribution circuits also benefit because peak solar coincides with high electricity demand caused by refrigeration and air conditioning consumption. Because it is generated in the same place as the demand, the circuits are relieved and require less maintenance. The savings in costs and emissions is significant, especially because it reduces the need to start the peakers, which are the equipment with the highest operating costs and environmental impact.[12]

One of the problems of Baja California Sur is that it is based on generators with very long start-up processes. Some fast start-up and flexible technologies can complement these gaps and allow renewable energies to meet demand peaks and deliver the energy they generate when the system requires it. [13]

Notwithstanding the foregoing, due to its isolated condition, since 2016 the BCSES set a limit of 10MW on the integration capacity of power plants with less than 0.5MW. Later in 2017, 28MW were established as a new limit. Nowadays, the limit has been exceeded, for which new photovoltaic solar system interconnections for the residential, commercial and industrial sectors have ceased to be authorized.

The Center for Renewable Energy and Environmental Quality (CERCA) reports that the National Center for Energy Control (CENACE) considered that Baja California Sur would be able to allow the interconnection of production based on renewables probably until 2026 and 2027, implying that the participants of the electricity market would have to invest in it. This would raise the costs of renewable projects.

Distributed solar generation promotes the democratization of energy; helps eliminate energy poverty, derived from the inability to pay the electricity bill for the use of electrical equipment that contributes to family well-being; creates new skilled jobs and new businesses; and improves public health and the environment.

(In part 2 of this article, we will discuss the strategies and initiatives needed to deliver renewable energy across Baja California Sur.)

 

[1] Government of the State of Baja California Sur. State Development Plan of the State of Baja California Sur 2021-2027. Retrieved from: link

[2] Secretary of Energy (SENER). Program for the Development of the National Electric System (PRODESEN) 2021-2035. Retrieved from: link

[3] It does not include Mulegé´s Electrical System.

[4] Government of the State of Baja California Sur. State Development Plan of the State of Baja California Sur 2021-2027. Retrieved from: link

[5] Recently, CFE has proposed the construction of a combined cycle plant in Punta Prieta with natural gas technology and a production of 170 MW.

[6] Programa de Gestión para Mejorar la Calidad del Aire  (PROAIRE) Baja California Sur  2018-2027. 2018. Secretaría de Turismo, Economía y Sustentabilidad de Baja California Sur, Secretaria de Medio Ambiente y Recursos Naturales, y PROAIRE. Retrieved from: PDF

[7] Government of the State of Baja California Sur. State Development Plan for the State of Baja California Sur. 2021. Retrieved from: link

[8] Secretary of Tourism, Economy and Sustainability of Baja California Sur, Secretary of Environment and Natural Resources, and PROAIRE. Management Program to Improve Air Quality (PROAIRE) Baja California Sur 2018-2027. 2018. Retrieved from: PDF

[9] National Institute of Statistics and Geography (INEGI). Gross Domestic Product by Federal Entity, 2018. Retrieved from: link

[10]Government of the State of Baja California Sur. State Development Plan for the State of Baja California Sur. 2021 Retrieved from: link

[11] NEXOS, Energy, Victor Florencio Ramirez. The peninsulas: between hope (the market) and threat (the monopoly). Retrieved from: link

[12]Government of the State of Baja California Sur. State Development Plan for the State of Baja California Sur. 2021 Retrieved from: link

[13] NEXOS, Energy. Victor Florencio Ramirez. Baja California Sur: flexibility, flexibility and more flexibility. Retrieved from: link

Photo by:   Rodrigo Osorio