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Harnessing Mexico’s Sun: CIMMYT Installs 920 Solar Panels in Green Initiative

May 18, 2015

Mexico’s solar thermal and photovoltaic resources are among the world’s best. Just one square of 25 kilometers in the State of Chihuahua or the Sonoran desert would be sufficient to supply electricity to the entire country.1 Mexico’s Secretariat of Energy (SENER) predicts the country will have 6 gigawatts (GW) of solar energy installed by 2020, although less than 1% of that is currently installed. The Mexican Government offers no direct subsidy to solar energy.

Demand for electricity in Mexico is increasing, and 22 GW will be needed by 2025. Energy costs are rising 8-10% annually. Despite little government intervention, the private solar sector in Mexico has been booming, experiencing triple-digit growth rates every three years over the past ten years and becoming one of the fastest growing solar energy markets globally.

CIMMYT is actively taking advantage of solar energy’s potential in Mexico.

“The project started a year and a half ago, when the German Corporation for International Cooperation (GIZ) offered to fund self-efficient energy projects,” said Francisco J. Peñafort Olivas, Facilities Manager at CIMMYT-El Batan. “They gave us €750,000 EUR this January to install 920 solar panels that produce 275 kilowatts (KW) of energy. This produces about 12% of the total amount of energy CIMMYT demands per month, saving us around US $35,000/year.”

Solar panels.

Photo: Francisco Peñafort/CIMMYT

Peñafort pointed out that, unlike most organizations taking advantage of Mexico’s solar resources, CIMMYT requires energy 24/7 to power the genebank and other biosciences chambers. “We are planning to implement two more phases in this solar panel project and reach 495 KW of power, which would supply around 22% of CIMMYT’s energy and save nearly US $63,000 per year,” he said.

At least another €4 million EUR are needed for CIMMYT to achieve self-efficiency, but this is a step in the right direction. The solar panels have a 25-year warranty, and if a panel fails or falls below 80% efficiency, it is immediately replaced. “We also installed equipment to measure the energy we’re expending and monitor how each panel is working, and we’re sharing these data with CIMMYT’s genebank and the German Government,” said Peñafort.

CIMMYT is investing in other green initiatives as well. For example, it is replacing all the lights in the genebank with light-emitting diode lights, which will save around US $400 per year in energy. According to Peñafort, new energy-saving air conditioning systems are being installed throughout the campus. The solar panels are a long-term investment in CIMMYT going green and, in pursuit of self-sufficiency, the Center will continue to expand its solar program with other renewable initiatives.


1    Assuming a net system efficiency of 15%, based on the SENER and the German Technical Cooperation Agency 2009 study “Renewable Energy for Sustainable Development in México