Extreme heat is already straining Mexico’s electricity grid – Inside Climate News

When Raquel Rubio’s 13-month-old baby developed a fever of 102 last week, she rushed to the doctor. Her son, Liam, had been in Rubio’s apartment without air conditioning for several hours; Nuevo Len, the Mexican state where she lives, had reached 40 degrees that day. The fever in the region could easily cause her child’s temperature to rise.

The doctor confirmed Rubio’s suspicions, sent her home and told her to bathe Liam and keep him hydrated. But Rubio couldn’t go home; he had been dealing with the power outage for the past two weeks and didn’t want to bring his son back into the searing heat.

During the heat wave that has hit Mexico and Texas over the past two weeks, some states in Mexico have seen temperatures exceed 113 degrees and more than 20 people have died from heat stroke. Record temperatures have put enormous pressure on the country’s electricity system, increasing the demand for electricity.

Experts say the lack of investment has left Mexico’s electricity system unprepared for the challenge. As climate change fosters extreme heat in the country, energy shortages could become increasingly common.

On Tuesday, the National Energy Control Center declared an operational state of emergency as Mexico’s electricity reserve hit an all-time low. In Mexico, summer is the season with the highest energy demands as people are more likely to use machines like fans or air conditioning, said Rosanety Barrios, an independent energy expert. But this year, even in temperate cities, like Mexico City, where people usually don’t need them, stores have run out of fans, local media reported.

Mexico is one of the countries where the effects of climate change can be seen most prominently, said Andrew Pershing, referring to the Climate Shift Index, a tool that estimates the influence of climate change on the local climate. Pershing is the vice president for science at Climate Central, the nonprofit that developed the tool. In places closer to the equator, like Mexico, the temperature doesn’t usually vary much, so it’s easier to identify highly unlikely weather conditions without climate change, he says. Last week’s temperatures in northeastern Mexico and central Texas scored five points on the Climate Shift Index, meaning researchers calculate they were five or more times more likely due to climate change.

Unprecedented temperatures have cornered Mexico’s electricity system, and more than 10 Mexican states reported power outages last week.

For several years, Mexico has neglected to invest in its electric system, which gets most of its energy from state power plants, Barrios says. While energy demand has steadily increased, energy production hasn’t increased in the past five years, said Carlos Flores, energy expert and head of new markets in Americas for Lightsource BP. In 2014, Mexico’s Congress passed new energy reforms and private companies that provide clean energy were supposed to replace state-owned fossil-fuel plants, but the current government reversed course. This government gamble was that they could cover the country’s energy demand with state power plants, and here are the consequences, Barrios says.

The problem is not only generating enough power, but also the fact that the whole system is old and underfunded, Barrios said, adding that the government hasn’t invested in electric transmission lines for at least a decade. Over the past three years, the amount the Federal Electricity Commission has invested in physical infrastructure was the lowest in at least a decade, says Jess Carrillo, director of sustainable economics at the Mexican Institute for Competitiveness, a Mexican think tank .

When you have a problem the size we have when demand is increasing, and high temperatures are also causing demand to increase, you’re facing more risk, he says.

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While it’s hard to know for sure what’s causing the power shortages, it’s common practice for the National Center for Energy Control to disconnect neighborhoods from the power grid to prevent the system from failing, Flores says. They do this to avoid bigger, harder-to-solve problems, Barrios says.

Citizens dealing with power outages are rushing to adapt to the disruption and danger. Luis Alejandro Caldern, a US citizen living in Nuevo Laredo, Tamaulipas, and his wife had to sleep on the balcony last Sunday because they had no electricity and the heat inside was unbearable. The power outage lasted over 40 hours, so the next night they stayed at a hotel in another area and much of their food went bad.

We’ve never dealt with anything like this, he said. When there is a power outage, electricity is usually back in 15 minutes.

Mexico typically passes its previous year’s peak energy demand in July, but it has already happened this year, leaving many concerned that the coming weeks could hold even worse blackouts. This is a product of the climate emergency, and it’s not the responsibility of governments, but it is their responsibility to build an electricity system that is prepared for it, Barrios said.

In addition to being challenging, investing in power transmission and generation is often not politically expedient, Carrillo said. It’s not sexy; it’s like building a sewage system. No one likes to build a sewage system, everyone wants to build highways, statues, parks.

Editor’s Note: An earlier version of this story used the incorrect last name for Rosanety Barrios. Has been updated.

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