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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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This photograph shows a car with the words “We Drive Solar” on the door, connected to a charging station. A windmill can be seen in the background.

The Dutch city of Utrecht is embracing vehicle-to-grid technology, an example of which is shown here—an EV connected to a bidirectional charger. The historic Rijn en Zon windmill provides a fitting background for this scene.

We Drive Solar

Hundreds of charging stations for electric vehicles dot Utrecht’s urban landscape in the Netherlands like little electric mushrooms. Unlike those you may have grown accustomed to seeing, many of these stations don’t just charge electric cars—they can also send power from vehicle batteries to the local utility grid for use by homes and businesses.

Debates over the feasibility and value of such vehicle-to-grid technology go back decades. Those arguments are not yet settled. But big automakers like Volkswagen, Nissan, and Hyundai have moved to produce the kinds of cars that can use such bidirectional chargers—alongside similar vehicle-to-home technology, whereby your car can power your house, say, during a blackout, as promoted by Ford with its new F-150 Lightning. Given the rapid uptake of electric vehicles, many people are thinking hard about how to make the best use of all that rolling battery power.

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