One of the critical problems faced by societies involves climate change, which coupled with the loss of biodiversity and degradation of ecosystems, represents a major global challenge for many countries around the world. Combined with the prospects of the low availability and rising prices of oil, this translates into an urgent appeal for alternate sources of energy, other than fossil fuels.
Mexico is no stranger to this scenario, and it has been making various efforts to reduce this problem, through the promotion of the use of various types and applications of renewable energy.
These renewable energy sources have so far addressed a services market, with applications including solar thermal and photovoltaic energy, and more recently of bioenergy, without prejudicing traditional sources, as well as electricity generated through geothermal, hydro energy and, recently, with wind power.
Since 1994, the Secretariat of Agriculture, Livestock, Rural Development, Fisheries and Food (SAGARPA), began promoting renewable energy development in the agricultural sector, in a joined pilot project with SANDIA National Laboratories of the United States and the Trust Risk-Sharing (FIRCO), operational institution of SAGARPA.
The project was innovative because it sought to link alternative energy with the production processes that many agricultural units performed. As an example: photovoltaic systems for pumping water for irrigation and livestock watering in small areas under cultivation, with the aim of showing the benefits of the systems, while breaking down barriers of ignorance that limit the adoption and use of technology.
During 1994-1999 as many as 195 modules of photovoltaic systems for water pumping were installed in various areas of Mexico. The demonstration garnered much interest from farmers as a way to integrate the systems into their production units.
Based on this initial experience, in the year 2000, SAGARPA received a donation from the Global Environment Facility (GEF), amounting to $8.9 million, for implementing the Renewable Energy for Agriculture Project (PERA). This donation, together with the resources of producers and program funds from the Mexican government, represented a total investment in the project of more than $33 million over six years.
The project was conceptualized in an integrated manner, including training, technical assistance, promotion, market studies, development of technical specifications and certification. Modules of photovoltaic systems for water pumping, refrigeration devices and milk cooling tanks; as well as solar water heaters and the production and use of biogas from biodigestors, were demonstrated.
It was estimated that the project acted to generate 4.321 MWh and reduce CO2 emissions to the atmosphere at 257,000 tons.
As a part of the project’s activities, detection of alternative technologies and uses of renewable energy were generated, with an emphasis on productive applications in agribusiness. Noted were the potential of technologies such as water heating, the use of biogas for thermal and electrical power generation and photovoltaic power connected to the network, in the transformation processes, generating added value to agricultural products.
Based on the project’s results, the need for continuity of efforts and diversifying the use of renewable energy in the sector was evident, as well as making clear the environmental benefits and economic implications of the technologies in this type of activity.
Given this, starting in December 2006, after talks with GEF and the World Bank, a new project began to promote the use of renewable energy in agribusiness, via a loan from the World Bank, as well as a donation by the GEF. Funds will be used to support the purchase of renewable energy systems and logistics. It is expected that the project will begin in 2008.
This project will study water heating with solar thermal power, generation of biogas from biomass for its use in generating energy, and use of photovoltaic energy connected to the network, which have all been identified as viable technologies.
The project will pay attention to aspects related to the effects of climate change through actions related to the mitigation of greenhouse gases, seeking to promote energy efficiency in production processes of agribusiness; promoting renewable energy; as well as promotion of sustainable energy production from biomass.
It is also important to note that during this administration, measures to reduce pollution and to assist in mitigating the generation of greenhouse gases has been established as a matter of policy, Here SAGARPA, is working with the implementation of programs to support agribusiness with the use of alternative energy sources and also contribute to the reduction of operating costs. All of these measures bring us one step closer to a truly sustainable energy program.
Octavio Montúfar is a regional director with the Secretariat of Agriculture, Livestock, Rural Development, Fisheries and Food (SAGARPA) which works with various entities to increase the quality of life and development opportunities in Mexico’s food and agriculture sector. Visit www.sagarpa.gob.mx.