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Is Mexico City building the world’s largest solar park?

Laura Puttkamer

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In Mexico, a new solar plant is being built on the roof of the city’s central market. It could be the largest plant in the world – but there is a lot of competition for this title. Read all about the world’s largest solar park here.

The Solar City in Mexico City

The Central de Abasto in the east of Mexico City is a huge wholesale market. It is the most important food market in the Mexican capital, where many wholesalers buy. More than 30,000 tonnes of products are sold here every day, which corresponds to 80 per cent of the consumption in the metropolitan area of Mexico City. The market is located on former farmland to alleviate overcrowding in the city centre. It is so big that the best way to move between the halls is by car.

Now, the Mexico City government has announced plans to build the world’s largest urban solar plant on the roofs of the market halls. Thousands of photovoltaic panels are to be installed this year. The cost is expected to be 400 million pesos, about 19,5 million euros. And the area of the solar park is to be the size of about 400 football fields.

Up to 500,000 customers come to Central de Abasto every day. Little do they know that by the end of 2023, about 18 megawatts of electricity will be generated above their heads. This is enough to supply around 14,000 households with electricity per day.

Some of Mexico City's taxis are powered by solar electricity already. Image: Fourandsixty, CC BY-SA 4.0 , via Wikimedia Commons

An important green initiative

Fadlala Akabani, the Minister of Economic Development in Mexico City, announced the start of the project at the end of January 2023. This is one of the rather rare green initiatives under President Andrés Manuel López Obrador. Normally, the Mexican president supports fossil fuels and power generation through Mexico’s two nationalised energy companies, the oil company Pemex, and the electricity company CFE.

CFE is responsible for installing and later operating the solar city on the roofs of the wholesale market. During his years in office so far, López Obrador has paused and blocked the development of large solar projects. Accordingly, solar power contributes only about 5 percent to Mexico’s electricity mix – by comparison, the figure in Germany is between 9 and 11 percent.

According to CFE, the first panels are already under construction. In total, there will be 35,000 solar panels on the roof of the market halls, which, with 27 million KWh per year, will supply not only households in the surrounding area but also the market itself. The solar installation is expected to cover at least 30 per cent of the market’s high energy costs.

Opening planned for mid-2023

The mayor of Mexico City, Claudia Sheinbaum, is known for her green pushes. In doing so, she has to overcome many hurdles, including corruption and other presidential agendas. At the end of January 2023, she announced that the new solar project should be ready by the middle of the year. In the first week of February, 1 megawatt per day should already be available. In April, 8 more megawatts are expected. The solar panels come from China.

In a press conference, Sheinbaum explained that Mexico’s Ministry of Energy will cover about 5/6 of the total cost. The capital’s government will cover a total of about 100 million pesos. She explained that the project would reduce the market’s greenhouse gas emissions and strengthen Mexico’s energy independence. The so-called “Ciudad Solar” or Solar City is the largest solar park of its kind in the world, according to the mayor.

Akabani added that vendors in the market would benefit from lower energy costs. The shared areas of the market will be cheaper to run thanks to the solar park. And the individual electricity bills of the traders are also expected to go down.

The title for the world's largest solar park is highly contested. Image: Unsplash

The largest solar park in the world?

With the planned 18 megawatts – other sources mention up to 25 megawatts – the new solar park in Mexico City represents a large urban solar park, but certainly not the largest in the world. That title belongs to India’s Bhadla SolarPark, which has 2,245 megawatts of capacity, about 100 times more than the planned solar city in Mexico. With an area of 5,700 hectares, Bhadla is also over 10 times larger than Ciudad Solar in Mexico City, which will measure about 430 hectares. That isa bit more than 4 square kilometres.

The second largest solar power plant is in the Chinese province of Qinghai and has a capacity of 2.2 gigawatts. This puts it in second place among the world’s most powerful solar parks. The world’s third largest photovoltaic plant is also located in India: As early as April 2019, the Pavagada Solar Park in the southern Indian state of Karnataka offers a capacity of 1,400 megawatts. It covers an area of 53 square kilometres.

Future solar parks

The title of the world’s largest solar plant is coveted. In early 2023, Portugal announced that it would soon build the largest solar park in Europe, with a capacity of 1,200 megawatts. The Spanish company Iberdrola is financing the project, which is scheduled for completion in 2025. It would then make up the fifth largest photovoltaic project in the world – at least as things stand today.

There are also big plans in Rome. The city is currently bidding to host the World Expo 2030. The centrepiece of the exhibition will be a large solar farm, the largest in the world according to the organisers. It would power the entire Expo. All nations participating in the Expo are expected to contribute to the structure. This is to promote international dialogue on renewable energy and the role of sustainable urban development.

Singapore is also dreaming big: the city state has no space for noteworthy photovoltaic projects, but is building a gigantic solar farm in the Australian outback. This is to be transported over 4,000 kilometres via submarine cable. The so-called Australia-Asia Power Link of the Sun Cable company could be ground-breaking for the supply of cities with solar energy produced on land.

By the way: The hot summers in Europe lead to solar power records. Read more about the figures from summer 2022 in the EU.

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