Mexico’s Renewables Revolution Creates Tension

Demand for wind energy brings opportunities to engineers but angers some locals

4 min read
Mexico’s Renewables Revolution Creates Tension
Windy Welcome: In 2009, people gathered in Oaxaca for the inauguration of a US $550 million wind farm. The benefits of Mexico’s renewables boom have been uneven, triggering protests.
Photo: Mark Stevenson/AP Photo

Men died in gun battles over the installation of windmills in the state of Oaxaca, Mexico, three years ago. Opponents argued that energy companies misled them and that community leaders rented out collective lands without consulting everyone they should have. Today, protests continue, but the growth of wind farms and other renewables seems assured: Mexico boasts almost 2 gigawatts of installed wind power capacity and plans to install perhaps another 12 GW by 2022. All that clean energy is a big change for this country, which is the world’s ninth-biggest oil producer and perhaps the 11th-biggest emitter of carbon dioxide.

Yet at a conference in the city of Oaxaca de Juárez in August 2014, audience members asked the state’s renewable energy coordinator, Sinaí Casillas Cano, what benefit the foreign-built windmills had brought. Few of the farmers who have rented their land to wind companies are qualified—or needed—to maintain the multimegawatt windmills. The benefits will arrive unevenly as Mexico races to reform its fast-growing energy sector, experts say. Better-educated Mexicans will win the first jobs, and industrial power buyers will be the first to see their electricity bills fall, according to energy strategist Eduardo Reyes of PricewaterhouseCoopers, in Mexico City.

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Practical Power Beaming Gets Real

A century later, Nikola Tesla’s dream comes true

8 min read
This nighttime outdoor image, with city lights in the background, shows a narrow beam of light shining on a circular receiver that is positioned on the top of a pole.

A power-beaming system developed by PowerLight Technologies conveyed hundreds of watts of power during a 2019 demonstration at the Port of Seattle.

PowerLight Technologies
Yellow

Wires have a lot going for them when it comes to moving electric power around, but they have their drawbacks too. Who, after all, hasn’t tired of having to plug in and unplug their phone and other rechargeable gizmos? It’s a nuisance.

Wires also challenge electric utilities: These companies must take pains to boost the voltage they apply to their transmission cables to very high values to avoid dissipating most of the power along the way. And when it comes to powering public transportation, including electric trains and trams, wires need to be used in tandem with rolling or sliding contacts, which are troublesome to maintain, can spark, and in some settings will generate problematic contaminants.

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