Solar Power in Yucatan
Sunshine is one thing that the Yucatan Peninsula has in abundance... maybe even over abundance at times. No matter how much it rains, the sun always comes out soon enough. If you move to Yucatan from a place that had less sun, you start out by reveling in so much sunshine... but soon enough, you come to value the shade almost as much. THAT is how much sunshine there is here.
Alternative Power in Yucatan
Merida used to be known as a city full of windmills. In addition to the ever-abundant sunshine, there is enough constant wind that at the turn of the 20th Century, before ubiquitous electricity, Merida's wells were pumped by power from windmills, called veladas. Some of them can still be seen in the Merida skyline.
Now, when people think of alternative sunshine, however, they are thinking of solar power. Perhaps because the devices for capturing the sun are less invasive, smaller and more efficient. Solar panels and solar power systems have been improving with each passing year, not only becoming more efficient but also becoming more affordable. And gradually, more and more expatriates (and Yucatecans) who own their own homes (and pay their own CFE bills!) are turning to solar energy to power their homes and offset some of their costs. Because as a resident of Yucatan, often the single highest household bills (if you use air conditioning) becomes your CFE bill.
Local Residents Install Solar
We asked some local home owners who had installed solar panels to answer some questions and share their experience of installing solar power in their homes. Here are answers to a survey that we sent to some residents who agreed to talk to us about their experiences:
Where do you live? Most of the people who answered our inquiries about installing solar power live on the Yucatan Gulf Coast, in and around Progreso. One respondent lived in Cholul and two houses were in downtown Merida.
Please describe your house: Most of the houses are independent homes, two to three bedrooms. Two of the respondents have villas in a gated community in Progreso. All the homes have air conditioners, and most have pools, though no one described their pool as large.
Why did you decide to install solar panels? Everyone cited the high cost of electricity in the Yucatan.
"... our neighbors told us they (installed solar panels) and without them, the CFE bill would be close to $700 USD in the summer. It was a no-brainer to take advantage of the panels."
"Our CFE bill hit $7,200 MXN one time and we just could not live with that."
"We decided to install the solar system because of the high cost of electricity here. We moved here from Hawaii, where electricity was the most expensive in the USA, and we were sick of it."
But some also cited environmental reasons...
"I think the sun is one of the natural resources in Mexico. I am an advocate for green anything and feel strongly that solar needs to be used whenever possible. Also, I wanted to use my AC and have reasonable electrical bills."
"I originally wanted the panels to lower my bills... since the panels have been installed, an unexpected transition has occurred. I am more conscious and conscientious about the energy I consume. I don't know if it's because I actually started paying attention to my usage by reading the CFE meter daily, or I have accepted the responsibility of environmental stewardship because of the panels."
What did you have installed?
"16 panels. Total capacity 4.0 KW (4000 watts)." (Supplying a 1300 square foot, single story 3 bedroom house with 5 air conditioners.)
"10 panels, supplying 2420 W or watts of power." (A villa in a gated community. Single family, 2 story condo with 2 bedrooms, 2 baths, 3 air conditioners and a small private pool with a filtration system that they run 2 hours per day.)
"16 panels on the roof." (This supplies a 2 bedroom house, with 4 35,000 BTU air conditioners.)
"10 panels on the roof, with a total of 2500 watts of power." (1500 square foot house with a small private courtyard, a small plunge pool, 2 bedrooms, 2.5 baths and 3 air conditioners.)
"10 panels on the roof (which we use as shade for a sitting area on our roof)." (2 bedrooms, 2.5 bathrooms and a washer/dryer. Air conditioners in each room and a small pool.)
"We have a 3 bedroom house with air conditioners and a pool, and a 4000 watt system. Also one beach house with 3 bedrooms, air conditioning and a pool that has a 6000 watt system. And another beach house with 2 bedrooms, air conditioning and a pool shared with the other beach house. That house has a 4000 watt system."
What did it cost to install? Most people were very pleased that the costs of installation were very close to the estimates that they received.
"$12,000 USD for 10 panels."
"We received two quotes and the costs were what we expected."
"We received two quotes. Our costs actually came in less than the estimates."
"We received two quotes. The costs turned out to be exactly what was estimated."
"I got three quotes and researched a lot."
"I got a quote three years ago. Since I got the quote, the price went down about 23% before I installed them."
Did you install the solar panels in the process of building or did you add them on later?
"I lived in the house for four years before installing the panels. The entire process was painless. The actual install took only three days, including the concrete bases for the frames, mounting the panels and installing and hooking up the inverter. It took CFE three weeks to install the special meter, and would have taken longer if EcoCentro (our vendor) had not contacted them daily to prod them along."
"We installed them in the process of building our home. We hardly knew the installation was going on. There were no modifications needed as we had already put a tube in for the wires to go into the garage to the converter. You can't even see the panels."
"The installation was one of the most effortless that we have done since living here. It was done quickly, on time and professionally. There were no expensive modifications needed."
"Due to space restrictions, we had to have a steel structure built on our roof for the panels. The cost for that was minimal compared to the rest of the installation."
"The process seemed very easy. We added the panels on after the house was built, and no modification needed to be made to the house."
"The guys installed the panels upstairs on the top floor on top of a metal roof they installed. I like the roof they installed... it's an added bonus because we have a shaded section on our roof now."
How long have you had your solar panels now?
The answer to this ranged from one month to two years. With the costs falling as they have, (25% from 2012 to 2014, according to our contacts at EcoCentro), we imagine there will be more people with experience in this area in the months and years to come.
Have the savings been what you expected?
"The savings have been about what we expected. Our electric bills are about two thirds less than they were before we installed the solar system."
"The savings have been right on."
"The savings have been about what we thought they would be."
"We knew it would pay for itself."
"The savings have been greater than expected. We are very happy."
"The savings have been about what I expected. I've kept a daily log of my energy usage and solar input by reading the CFE meter. I've got enough data to project that I will be billed for half the usage in my next billing cycle (I just installed the panels two months ago), compared to the same period last year."
Have there been maintenance issues and what have they been?
"It is important to keep the panels clean to maintain optimum output, so I plan on cleaning them every couple of months. It is important to know that you should never clean them when they are hot, so you have to do it early in the morning or late in the evening, or on a cloudy day. Also, you do not use any cleaning agents... just water and a soft brush or cloth."
"Little maintenance. My helper went up on the roof once (in six months) and just dusted the panels off."
"No maintenance issues yet (after two years). We will have the top of the panels cleaned as part of a regular maintenance this year."
"I was told I could go longer, but found I needed to clean the panels sooner than expected."
"The only thing we need to do is clean the panels, but I have noticed that even if the panels are dirty, it doesn't make much difference to the electricity generation. In the summer months, the rain cleans the panels for me."
"There have been absolutely no maintenance issues. Once in awhile we check to see if the panels need cleaning, but rarely do they need anything more than washing off with a hose." (after two years)
Solar Panels in Yucatan
Everyone we talked to (six or seven households) seemed to be happy with their solar panel installations. For some, it has only been a few months since they installed them. Others have had them for years. All in all, viable solar power installations are a relatively new thing in Merida and the Yucatan Peninsula, but the concept is catching on as providers become more capable, CFE warms up to the idea and the costs continue to fall.
Do you have questions about solar installations in Merida? Do you have experience with installing solar panels in your home in the Yucatan? Do you know of dependable vendors or places to buy supplies? We'd love to hear from you. Feel free to add your experiences in the Comment section below... for the benefit of all our readers, for the good of the Yucatan, for the good of the planet.
Special thanks to EcoCentro in Merida who was kind enough to provide us with contacts and additional information.
Deborah Wilson 7 years ago
I plan to build within the next year in Chelem, yucatan. Has anyone put in solar panels there lately. Does it really save on electricity? I am curious.....does the government give any discounts if you have these panels? I plan to have a large ref., small freezer, ceiling fans throughout and washer. I need help.
Chris 6 years ago
Have 16 solar panels installed almost two years ago and my electric bill is down to a reasonable amount, less then 200 pesos per month. I use two air conditioners on a regular basis, one through the night and the other on warm days in the living room. I was paying before 3000 pesos per month.
The Mexican gouvernment is subsidizing electricity if you use less then 200 kwh per month, if you use AC you lose the subsidy.
You have a contract with the electrical company, what you produce in excess of what you use gets credited and you can use it in the next 12 month.
Your cost is matched by the savings in 4 to 5 years and the panels are designed and guaranteed for 20 years.
When you build ask the contractor to leave the south facing part of the roof clear for the panels.
Let me know if I can help further.
Asis Abraham 8 years ago
Answering some questions done earlier by Marty, William, and Debbie, what I can tell you is the following.
1) CFE's policies are national. Anyone can have a grid tie photovoltaic system. You only need to do the correct paperwork and that is it. My guess is that people selling their panels is more about getting rid of the batteries.
2) The batterie system will depend on what you would like to power up and for how long. So far, grid tie systems are much more efficient and less expensive (plus you can see your savings easier)
3) So far there haven't been any solar panels stolen (nor in the city nor at beach houses). Specially because they are at the roof and you basically can't do much with just the solar panel. You need other equipments to make it functional.
Everyone, have a great Monday!
Debbie 8 years ago
I've always wondered whether theft of solar panels would be a problem, especially in the city where houses share walls and roofs.
William 8 years ago
I came to the party late, but are any interviewees considering going completely off the grid by using batteries? How much would that add to the install?
Marty 8 years ago
Good info! Are CFE's policies national, state by state or? In others words will CFE install grid tie equipment in Q Roo near Xcalak? We are off grid with no access currently to CFE power but seems like folks up north of Mahajual are selling off their PV panels when they connect to the new CFE power lines. You would think they would be making use of their investment and tying in their panels into the grid. Since CFE is the national power company hopefully the technology would be available everywhere.
Roger Sherman 8 years ago
There are many rumors about the energy reforms and most of them are not correct. The vast bulk of the reforms will affect industry rather than commercial and residential connections. If anything though the electricity tariffs will continue to increase and there is discussion about removing some of the current subsidies. But that is a political hot-potato and in my opinion will take some time to be agreed upon and probably even longer to implement. In the meantime the DAC tariff has risen at nearly 10% annually for the past 10 years and will most likely continue to follow the same pattern. This is a great time to thin about solar.
Bye for now
Dale Aubichon 8 years ago
Thanks Roger considering going the solar route but hear the government in 2015 is lowering the current pricing. All my information is 2nd and third hand with no specific details.
Can anyone tell the story of what CFE and the government are agreeing to do?
Working Gringos 8 years ago
Thank you Roger!
Roger Sherman 8 years ago
Thanks for the excellent article.
In response to the comments from Dale and Kristi: Kristi my company (Ecocentro Solar) covers from Cancun all the way down to Tulum and beyond, we are happy to provide you with responses and a proposal with absolutely no obligation on your part. I can be reached at email@example.com or cel (984) 157 9032. We pride ourselves in high quality products, service and most importantly installation.
In specific response to Dale, here are some answers:
-The return on investment varies depending on current tariff and the new tariff that is achieved with a PV/Solar system... in residential we are typically seeing about 4 years.
-Solar panels have a 25-year production warranty from the manufacturer. I have friends who have had systems working in other areas for more than 25 years.
-We try to make all our installations as hurricane-resistant as possible, but dismounting of panels is not that difficult and we provide training and a manual for our clients for this eventuality. It depends greatly on the site and the installation type.
-Although storage is possible with batteries, it is not usually recommended in a grid-tie system, but as you correctly point out CFE will give you an energy credit that lasts for up to 12 months.
-For residential and small commercial use (up to 30kw), on site systems will be much more economically viable than a solar farm.
Please let me know if you have any other questions.
nancy hokenson 8 years ago
I expected a payback of 5 years but with the existing savings it will more likely be 3 years.
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