Historically, hydropower has played a crucial role in electricity generation in Mexico. In remote parts of the country, stations dating from the 1920s remain in operation. Today, hydropower is the largest source of renewable energy in Mexico. At the end of 2015, 22 per cent of the country’s total installed capacity was hydropower, accounting for 12 per cent of electricity generation.
Mexico has a considerable technical hydropower potential, which has been estimated at 53,000 MW, of which 27,000 MW have been estimated as economically feasible. The country added 25 MW of installed hydropower capacity in 2015, but also took 266 MW offline, bringing the total hydropower capacity to 12,028 MW, which is almost half of the economically feasible potential.
Mexico has set ambitious targets for the development of new renewable energy capacity. The General Law for Climate Change sets a national goal for renewables to make up 35 per cent of the electricity mix by 2024 and 50 per cent by 2050.
In addition, Mexico’s intended nationally determined contribution (INDC) submission to the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC) includes the unconditional commitment to reduce greenhouse-gas emissions by 25 per cent below the business-asusual scenario by 2030.
Faced with rising demand for electricity driven by urbanisation and expansion of the industrial sector, meeting these goals will be a significant challenge for the country. A key strategy will be increasing investment in new power plants with a view to bolster the share of natural gas in the mix; in 2014, natural gas comprised 40 per cent of the country’s total energy consumption.
Nonetheless, new renewable energy deployments will also be crucial to meet the country’s targets.
The current installed hydropower capacity is concentrated in the western and south-western regions of the country, in river basins that drain into the Pacific. For example, three of the country’s largest projects are located in the Río Grijalva basin in the southeast: Chicoasén (2,400 MW), Malpaso (1,080 MW) and Angostura (900 MW).All of these stations are owned and operated by the state-owned Comisión Federal de Electricidad (CFE).
CFE is the major player in the Mexican electricity sector, managing over 75 per cent of the country’s generating assets, and the country’s entire transmission and distribution infrastructure. CFE has identified approximately 100 river basins that are suitable for hydropower development, and is currently carrying out a number of studies on the sustainability of particular sites.
For example, a study carried out in collaboration with the Nature Conservancy found that up to 40 per cent of hydropower potential in the Coatzacoalcos River basin could be developed with very little impact on river connectivity and downstream flow regimes. Basins like the Coatzacoalcos, which currently contain no major dams, will provide CFE with the opportunity to pioneer basin-level planning for sustainable hydropower development.
In 2015, CFE also signed a memorandum of understanding with Innergex, a Canadian power producer, to jointly study potential renewable energy project opportunities in Mexico, especially hydropower plants of less than 200 MW in capacity.
Private sector involvement is also expected to increase; major reforms to the energy market beginning in 2015 lifted restrictions on the private ownership of hydropower stations greater than 30 MW in capacity, significantly increasing the potential role of independent power producers in the Mexican market.
This country profile is featured in the 2016 Hydropower Status Report. You can download the full report here.
This profile was last updated in May 2016.