Tuesday, June 25, 2024

Drought reduced CFE hydroelectric power output by 43% in 2023

Drought and extreme heat are making it difficult for Mexico’s state-owned Federal Electricity Commission (CFE) to expand hydroelectric power generation, which has been one of the company’s goals to help reduce fossil fuel dependence.

This year’s high temperatures have also prompted higher energy demand in recent months, straining the national power grid. Concern about CFE’s energy generation surged a month ago when 21 states reported power outages. On May 7-8, the National Center for Energy Control (Cenace) twice declared a state of emergency in the national power system.

Blackouts affected more than half of Mexico's territory on Tuesday, May 7
May’s heat waves and subsequent increase in energy demand strained the national grid, causing power outages in 21 states. (Jorge Ortega/Cuartoscuro)

According to the newspaper El Economista, the CFE produced 19,568 gigawatt hours (GWh) of hydroelectric energy in 2023, which was 43% less than the 34,110 GWh generated in 2022. Hydroelectric power contributed just 7.7% of CFE production in 2023 as compared to the 14% it contributed in 2022.

Mexico’s ongoing drought — affecting nearly 76% of national territory as of May 31 — has had a dramatic impact on hydroelectric power generation, part of a federal clean energy initiative that was announced in July 2021. 

Three years ago, President Andrés Manuel López Obrador and CFE director Manuel Bartlett unveiled a plan to increase hydroelectric generation that included a US $1 billion investment to modernize 14 of Mexico’s 60 hydroelectric plants, all of which was projected to add another 50 years of life to CFE’s existing hydroelectric infrastructure.

The modernization project has improved capacity. During the first quarter of 2024, capacity for hydroelectric energy generation came in at 4,660 GWh, as compared to 2,823 GWh in July 2021.

But production capacity is irrelevant if there is not sufficient water to run the hydroelectric plants. Mexico’s Water Commission’s (Conagua) June 4 report indicated that the 210 most important water reservoirs in Mexico are at a combined 36% capacity, which is reflected in CFE’s most recent data. In February, hydroelectric power comprised just 4.9% of CFE production, down 76% compared to its contribution to total energy output in July 2021.

Mexico is ideally positioned to become a clean energy powerhouse given its high solar radiation, wind capacity and geothermal sources. However, the news organization Christian Science Monitor reported that Mexico relied on fossil fuels for 77% of its electricity generation last year according to Ember, an independent global energy think tank.

With reports from El Economista, Telediario, El Universal and The Christian Science Monitor

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