BY SPARKY MEWIRE
I was shaking my head when I read a recent Gringo Gazette article about the record-breaking demand for power causing rolling blackouts and the plans to prop up production from the diesel-fueled plant in La Paz by building a new gas-fueled plant also in La Paz. How ironic.
Mexico, and our state of Baja, in particular, is one of the global hotspots for renewable energy. All of Mexico lies in the most favorable sunbelt on the planet with around 2,190 hours of sunshine per year. Now, before you stop reading, and thinking I’m just going to suggest everyone should put solar panels on their roof, let me explain an alternative from my personal experience.
Up until 4 years ago, my neighborhood was totally off the grid, with only solar and generators for power. Then, almost overnight, we had access to the grid. Coincidentally, I was dealing with the prospect of spending $15,000 to replace a second set of expired batteries for my solar system when being on the grid became an option. So, I did the math to compare how much grid power I could buy for the same amount I would need to shell out for new batteries. I also considered the guilt I would endure knowing that CFE – the Federal Electricity Commission – was importing diesel fuel from the U.S. to generate what is known as “dirty power.”
Diesel is second to coal as a fossil fuel that puts a lot of CO2 (carbon dioxide) into the atmosphere (22 lbs per gallon of diesel to be exact).
On the other hand, putting my old batteries into the landfill each time they needed to be replaced wasn’t environmentally friendly either. With the number of natural disasters in the world attributed to climate change, there had to be a better way.
I called up my solar guy and debated the options. He suggested connecting to CFE and getting a bi-directional meter. Huh? What did that mean and what would it cost to do it? I learned that a bi-directional meter allowed me to send any excess power my solar panels produced to the grid. Based on my existing solar panels, I would only need to use CFE-generated power at night (actually I’m only getting my own transmitted power back ) and I could keep my propane generator for emergencies if a hurricane took down the grid and damaged my solar panels. I would also accumulate a credit for the power I sent to CFE to offset my CFE charges. The cost of adding some new ‘smart’ equipment to accommodate a bi-directional meter was half the price of new batteries, which appealed to my frugal nature, and this solution eased my conscience. Each day my rooftop panels now produce 15 kwh of power. I use 8 of that on average and send 7 back to the grid, which keeps 24 lbs of CO2 out of the environment daily vs. using grid power only.
My story is a common example of a process known as a distributed solar energy system, which connects buildings with solar panels to a bigger distribution circuit. Since I’m not the only one with solar panels on my roof, this seems like a viable alternative to provide more power where it’s needed locally.
Unfortunately, there’s one thing blocking this alternative from scaling up to connect all buildings with solar panels. CFE has stopped offering bi-directional meters. The only reason I can see for this moratorium is that CFE, like any utility, has spent billions of pesos on generating equipment and has determined that giving credits to customers who can produce power for them doesn’t put pesos into their bank accounts to cover the costs they paid. Utilities need to be long-term thinkers and it looks like the CFE crystal ball gazers might have been short-sighted. Cabo has grown far faster than they obviously expected. Cabo electricity demand has reached CFE capacity and both the generation and transmission systems can’t keep up. Even with expressed
commitments to carbon reduction (which sounds more like lip service to me), it appears they may be stuck on using fossil fuels to justify their existing hardware before they allow new solar projects as well. In the meantime, the efficiency of solar panels has gone up while the cost has gone down.
Although I can only speculate about what goes on behind closed doors at the government offices, I was told you can ask CFE to add your name to the list to get a bidirectional meter if they ever start offering them again. Getting on the list now will give you a much better chance of getting that meter when they do start offering them again. It will also give CFE an idea of how many people want them and they can factor that into their calculations. What I do know for sure is that you can count on the sun to shine in Cabo more than anywhere else.