Environment

Sea of solar panels turns Mexican desert green

Wednesday, May 02, 2018

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VIESCA, Mexico (AFP) — From a distance, it looks like a deep-blue sea has formed in the middle of the Mexican desert.

But this is no mirage — it's the largest solar park in Latin America.

With 2.3 million solar panels — covering the equivalent of 2,200 football fields in the arid northern state of Coahuila — the Villanueva power plant, built by Italian energy company Enel, is part of Mexico's push to generate 43 per cent of its electricity from clean sources by 2024.

Arrayed across the sand in seemingly endless rows that stretch to the horizon, the solar panels are made to turn in tandem with the sun, like a giant field of shimmering metallic sunflowers.

The US$650-million project came online in December and is due to produce 1,700 gigawatt hours when fully operational later this year — enough to power 1.3 million houses.

Mexico won plaudits from environmentalists in 2015 when it became the first emerging country to announce its emissions reduction targets for the United Nations climate accord, ambitiously vowing to halve them by 2050.

To get there, it is tendering clean energy projects in which private companies produce, sell and purchase electricity on an open market.

The three projects tendered so far have generated an estimated US$8.6 billion in investment. The resulting electricity will power some 6.5 million homes, according to government figures.

The Villanueva plant is the largest solar project in the world outside China and India.

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