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Felicity Bradstock

Felicity Bradstock

Felicity Bradstock is a freelance writer specialising in Energy and Finance. She has a Master’s in International Development from the University of Birmingham, UK.

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Claudia Sheinbaum Spearheads Revolutionary Solar Initiative in Mexico City

  • The project involves the installation of 32,000 solar panels, providing 18 MW of capacity and aiming to reduce carbon emissions by about 11,400 tonnes annually while saving on electricity costs.
  • Despite the national government's support for fossil fuels, Mexico City's initiative signals a potential shift towards renewable energy, particularly if Claudia Sheinbaum, an advocate for renewables, becomes president.
  • Similar urban solar projects in cities like Brussels, Oslo, Berlin, and San Antonio illustrate a growing global trend towards utilizing urban spaces for solar energy production, offering a sustainable model for others to follow.
Mexico City

Mexico City recently launched a major solar project aimed at transforming it into a “solar city” that other cities around the globe could well replicate. The installation of solar panels on the city’s Central de Abasto public wholesale market is said to be the biggest solar project of its type in the world. The massive solar development shows the potential for other cities with suitable conditions to invest in rooftop solar panels to help generate clean electricity for homes and businesses.

The Mexico City government invested $35.2 million in the installation of 32,000 solar panels across 21 hectares of the market’s rooftop. The project provides 18 MW of capacity and is expected to produce up to 25 gigawatt hours (GWh) of renewable electricity each year, enough to power around 10,000 homes. The plant is being run by the state-owned Federal Electricity Commission (CFE). It is said to be the largest urban solar park in the world, followed by Radha Soami in Amritsar, India and the rooftop solar park at the Apple headquarters in Cupertino, California. The solar project is expected to contribute to a carbon dioxide emissions reduction of around 11,400 tonnes a year. It will also reduce the market’s electricity bills by an estimated$205,300 annually. 

The development comes at a time when Mexico’s President Andres Manuel Lopez Obrador (AMLO) is being heavily criticised for his steadfast support for fossil fuels. AMLO has faced international criticism for his ongoing support for the state-owned oil and gas company PEMEX, despite its poor safety standards and the high level of debt it has incurred in recent years. AMLO has pursued a nationalist energy strategy, making it difficult for foreign companies to participate in Mexico’s energy sector. In addition, an uncertain investment environment has deterred many companies from investing in Mexico’s renewable energy sector. Mexico has significant potential to develop its renewable energy sources, with abundant sun as well as wind, hydropower and geothermal potential

Related: How To Profit From Europe’s $800 Billion Energy Crisis

The solar city project was led by the then-mayor of Mexico City and Morena presidential candidate Claudia Sheinbaum, who has a master’s degree and Ph.D. in energy engineering. The project demonstrates there could be a potential shift in the government’s energy strategy if she wins the election, with the potential for significant renewable energy development over the coming years. Sheinbaum plans to increase renewable energy usage while upholding Lopez Obrador's pledge to keep at least 54 percent of power generation in state hands

Despite offering few details of her energy plans, she has long been a fierce advocate for renewable energy. The budget constraints faced by Mexico, as well as its rising energy demand, suggest that should she take office, Sheinbaum will likely seek higher levels of private investment in the energy sector. As much as two-thirds of the Mexican energy market could be in the hands of domestic players by the time AMLO leaves office, providing Sheinbaum with some leeway to offer private companies a position in the market, particularly in renewables. 

If the Mexico City rooftop solar park is successful, it could encourage other cities worldwide to develop similar projects. While most solar farms are being developed in rural locations, across vast quantities of empty land, there is potential to develop projects in urban hubs to help boost clean energy production, reduce pollution, and reduce electricity bills. Some other cities have already launched city solar projects on a much smaller scale, with the potential to roll out more solar capacity. 

In Europe, the city of Brussels has developed a ‘solar map’, providing an estimation of the solar rooftop potential across the city, which can be accessed by residents and private companies. In 2022, in Oslo, Norway, the startup Over Easy Solar ran a pilot project using bifacial solar panels on a green roof (biosolar roof), to produce 5 kWp of clean energy. The rooftop was due to be expanded to a capacity of 50 kWp in 2023. Meanwhile, in Berlin, from 2023, new buildings must be fitted with solar PVs on the rooftop or façade. The panels must cover at least 30 percent of the gross roof area or equivalent space. 

Related: 2 Companies That Could Help Europe Win Its Energy War With Russia

In the U.S., in 2023, the San Antonio City Council approved the largest municipal solar project in Texas to date. The council plans to invest $30 million in the installation of rooftop, parking and park canopy solar systems across 42 city facilities. The project is being developed in collaboration with Big Sun Solar and will support the city’s 2040 goal of net-zero energy production in all municipal buildings. The project is expected to be complete by 2060. 

Despite the country facing a multitude of challenges in its energy sector, Mexico City is leading the way when it comes to urban solar power. The new solar city project could provide a blueprint for other cities to follow, both in Mexico and worldwide. Meanwhile, other cities in Europe, the U.S. and other parts of the world are developing their urban solar capacity on a smaller scale, with significant potential for expansion. 

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By Felicity Bradstock for Oilprice.com

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