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Setting the bar high-in solar power

ACCIONA's new 405-MW solar power project in Mexico sets the bar high in terms of construction and execution?"with the installation of more than one million solar panels in a two-month period.

By Paul MacDonald

ACCIONA Energía's 405-megawatt Puerto Libertad solar project in Mexico has a surface area equivalent to 333 soccer pitches.  


The numbers for ACCIONA Energía's recently completed 405-megawatt (MW) Puerto Libertad solar project in Mexico are impressive. Case in point:

BYD's ESS include 500-kW to 2-MW containerized outdoor cabinets for utility applications, 60-kW to 120-kW outdoor cabinets for commercial and industrial use, and 3-kW to 9-kW mini-ESS for residential installations.


• ACCIONA installed more than one million panels in a single two-month period.
• In just one day, the company assembled 43,080 PV modules (14.29 MW).
• The project has a surface area equivalent to 333 soccer pitches.

Other solar, storage projects in the works for Mexico

There are a number of other solar power and storage projects being planned for Mexico and its sun-drenched climate.

France's ENGIE and Tokyo Gas Co. Ltd. are investing in Heolios EnTG, a 50/50 joint venture company to develop renewable energy projects in Mexico.

Plans call for Heolios EnTG to develop, finance, construct, own, operate, and maintain six renewable energy projects in Mexico.

Two of the plants are onshore wind while the remaining four are solar photovoltaic, totaling 898.7 MW, enough to power 1.3 million Mexican households.

The projects were granted 15-year power purchase agreements through Mexican power auctions.

One of the power projects, Tres Mesas 3, is a 50-MW wind power facility that entered into commercial operation in March 2019, ahead of schedule. The remaining plants are currently in various stages of construction and will start commercial operation in 2019 and 2020.

Mexico is endowed with extraordinary solar and wind resources. Aware of this potential, the Mexican government issued an energy law in 2015 transitioning the country to a low-carbon growth model targeting 35 percent clean energy sources by 2024. Through Heolios EnTG, Tokyo Gas and ENGIE say they are supporting Mexico's clean energy ambitions, intending to boost the development of their renewable energy business in the country.

Battery manufacturing company BYD and Pireos Capital have also announced a new partnership for the deployment of 100-MWh Energy Storage Systems (ESS) in Mexico, equivalent to the daily power consumption of 30,000 households.

The introduction of BYD's lithium iron phosphate, also called LFP, ESS technology opens the door to a wide variety of applications at the residential, commercial, industrial, and power grid level, says the company. These include investment deferral, frequency regulation, virtual power plants, emergency backup, peak shaving, load shifting, and net-zero energy.

BYD's ESS include 500-kW to 2-MW containerized outdoor cabinets for utility applications, 60-kW to 120-kW outdoor cabinets for commercial and industrial use, and 3-kW to 9-kW mini-ESS for residential installations.

By partnering with BYD, Pireos Capital will be offering for the first time in Mexico an integrated PV+ESS solution, with smart integration software capabilities, designed to maximize the environmental and economic benefits of renewable energy and minimize the financial risks associated with multiple-vendor integration and energy storage technology, says the company.

Mexico's installed PV capacity tops 3 GW

Mexico has now reached operational installed solar PV capacity of 3 GW, according to figures from Mexican solar energy association Asolmex (Asociación Mexicana de Energía Solar).

The figure includes 39 utility-scale solar plants across 11 Mexican states and approximately 85,000 contracts for distributed-generation PV systems. A number of factors have led to Mexico hitting this landmark solar figure, including inexpensive solar panels, reduced duties, and connecting large projects to the power grid.

Large projects, such as ACCIONA's recently completed 405-MW Puerto Libertad solar project, had been selected in Mexican energy auctions.

The Mexico numbers were also helped by the grid connection of the largest solar project in the Americas, the massive 828-MW Villanueva project in the state of Coahuila that was completed by Italian energy company Enel this past September.

And apparently there is more to come. The Mexican Department of Energy says it expects 5.4 GW of cumulative PV capacity will be reached by the end of this year.

The $350 million Puerto Libertad solar power project, equally owned by ACCIONA and Mexican company Tuto Energy, entered service in the first quarter of 2019. It is, by far, one of the largest solar power projects in Latin America.

Because of its size, this single project has had a huge impact on the company's renewable power numbers in the country. ACCIONA now owns 1,144 MW of solar and wind power in Mexico.

Built in Mexico's Sonoran Desert, the 405-MW PV plant is the biggest renewables project ever undertaken by ACCIONA. Construction started on the project in February 2018.

The scale of this project produced some impressive accomplishments.

As noted, ACCIONA installed more than one million photovoltaic panels (1,072,909) in two months, from October 19 to December 19, a construction milestone for this type of plant. It was accompanied by an impressive one-day record—on December 18, the company assembled over 43,000 solar modules.

"We had never reached such a pace of activity in the construction of a photovoltaic plant," said ACCIONA Energía México CEO Miguel Angel Alonso. "In Puerto Libertad we achieved very efficient working practices born of our experience in previous projects, and this enabled us to complete the assembly of the plant in record time, and also contribute to a major increase in our installed capacity in Mexico."

The construction of the plant created about 600 jobs, but there were activity peaks when more than 1,300 people were employed. It provides permanent employment for 38 people.

In terms of facts and figures, the Puerto Libertad project consists of a total of 1,222,800 polycrystalline silicon panels installed on 1,496 horizontal tracking structures with a solar radiation collection surface area of 2.4 square kilometers.

The solar power project is built on 1,144 hectares acquired under a 20-year lease agreement signed between the developer and a private landowner.

The PV modules are mounted on 20,380 horizontal single-axis tracking structures having a combined length of 1,212 kilometers. The direct current (DC) captured by the solar panels is converted into alternating current (AC) using inverters and is stepped up by a 34.5/230kV collector substation built at the site.

ACCIONA Energía was responsible for the engineering, procurement, and construction (EPC) of Libertad Solar, and it will also operate and maintain the plant for two years, following which the joint venture will undertake the operation and maintenance.

The project involved Fimer inverters, acquired through a supply agreement coordinated by Fegen, and inverters from AT Solar and GPTech.

JA Solar was awarded a contract to supply high-efficiency solar PV modules. Spanish company STI Norland SL supplied 1,500 units of its STI-H1250 tracker model.

The project is located northwest of the small town of Puerto Libertad, in the Mexican State of Sonora, in northwestern Mexico. The site is near the coast of the Gulf of California, about 360 kilometers southwest of the border city of Nogales and 200 kilometers northwest of Hermosillo, the capital of Sonora.

Northwestern Mexico is in an enviable position, regarding solar power. It is among the regions with the highest solar energy resources in the world—meaning that Sonora has a high potential for solar energy development. Solar irradiation in the state is 45 percent higher than the national average, mainly in the northern area of the state.

The Puerto Libertad power project will produce approximately 963 gigawatt-hours (GWh) of energy per year, covering the electricity demand of 583,000 Mexican households.

Reports say that about 229 MW of power from the plant has been sold on a long-term contract basis to the Federal Electricity Commission (CFE), the former power sector monopoly. Another 114 MW will be sold to private companies, with 61 MW destined for the wholesale electricity market.

With Puerto Libertad, ACCIONA achieved a one-day construction record—on December 18, the company assembled over 43,000 solar modules on the project.  

All of this solar power development is welcome in Mexico. The Mexican government anticipates total power generation will almost double by 2030, with more than 40 percent coming from renewables such as solar and wind.

With the addition of this single project, ACCIONA now has 1,144 MW in Mexico (739.5 MW from wind power and 404.5 MW from PV solar), making the country the second most important market worldwide for the company in terms of owned capacity, after Spain. It is also currently building a 183-MW wind farm in the Mexican State of Tamaulipas.

The Puerto Libertad power project will produce approximately 963 gigawatt-hours (GWh) of energy per year, covering the electricity demand of 583,000 Mexican households. It is by far one of the largest solar power plants in Latin America.




The construction of Puerto Libertad also means that ACCIONA has more than doubled global PV capacity under its ownership. It also has projects in Chile, South Africa, and Portugal. The company is also constructing PV solar projects in Egypt and Ukraine.

The company has plenty of experience to draw from in taking on Puerto Libertad and these other projects. ACCIONA is a global operator in renewable energies with over 25 years of experience in the sector and more than 9,000 MW under its ownership. It has 222 wind farms, 76 hydro plants, large PV power projects, biomass installations, and a CSP plant. A focus for the company is marketing power to large customers. Its range covers the entire value chain of design, construction, operation, and maintenance.