MEXICO CITY — A sprawling fruit and vegetable market in Mexico’s capital aims to create a greener future as the world’s largest urban solar farm, with thousands of photovoltaic panels to be installed on the seemingly endless rooftops of its buildings.
The 400 million peso ($19.9 million) rooftop solar project will cover a chaotic wholesale market that serves half a million customers a day, spanning an area equivalent to about 400 football fields.
Once online later this year, the rooftops of Central de Abasto Market will power some 18 megawatts of generating capacity, according to Fadlala Akabani, the capital’s economic development minister, enough to power around 14,000 homes.
The project marks a rare green initiative under the government of President Andres Manuel Lopez Obrador, which has primarily sought to prioritize fossil fuel generation and power generation through two state-run energy giants. : the national oil company Pemex and the public electricity utility CFE.
However, the CFE is designing the solar installation on the market and will subsequently operate it.
During his first three years in office, Lopez Obrador feuded with private companies that invested heavily in renewable energy in Mexico, even pushing for reform that would roll back many existing private energy projects.
“The large-scale development [solar] the projects have been on hold for more than a year,” said Javier Romero of the solar energy association ANES, pointing to the heightened political risk and legal loopholes that compromise potential private generators.
“Who will invest without collateral?
Solar power only contributed about 5% of Mexico’s electricity generation last year, according to industry data.
But Mexico’s solar production by percentage is higher than that of the United States, where it contributed nearly 3% last year, according to data from the United States Energy Information Administration (EIA).
While the EIA predicts solar power in the United States will reach one-fifth of the country’s electricity by 2050, Mexico’s state-run CFE declined to provide its own estimate.
“It’s not about percentages, but rather about planning our energy transition,” CFE spokesman Luis Bravo told Reuters.
Previous governments in Mexico have pledged to achieve 35% clean energy by 2024, up from the 29% currently anchored largely by CFE’s hydroelectric plants and private wind farms. But achieving this goal is seen by industry experts as next to impossible given current trends.
The wholesale market in Mexico is a positive point.
The market is home to around 10,000 stalls selling mostly fruit, vegetables and meat, with one operated by Arturo Mesa, whose stall was covered in mountains of apples and lettuce during a recent visit.
Mesa hopes that new solar panels can reduce its electricity bill.
“I pay 5,000 pesos [$249] each month. It’s too much,” he said.
About 36,000 panels are installed to cover the roofs of buildings and ultimately generate much more energy than the market consumes, with excess electricity likely being made available to other users, said Jose Alberto Valdes, a senior energy official in the city government.
Valdes added that officials aim to equip additional roofs of the market with solar panels, but did not provide any further details.
CFE’s Bravo said Lopez Obrador also wants to boost solar power and pointed to the company’s $1.6 billion utility-scale photovoltaic project planned for Sonora state in northern Mexico.
The facility is expected to cover 2,000 hectares of sun-scorched desert and have an annual generation capacity of 1,000 megawatts.
But it’s not expected to go live until 2028.
Romero of the Solar Association argues that the power generation projects in Sonora and Mexico City are woefully inadequate given Mexico’s potential.
“It’s peanuts,” he said. “These are not numbers to brag about.” —Reuters