Amidst the darkening cloud of violence that grips the US-Mexico border region, a surprising ray of sunlight illuminates a prosperous, cleaner future. Quietly above the hustle of Boulevard Tomas Fernandez in Ciudad Juárez, 25-year resident Daniel Chacón is greeted each day by what he calls “giant sun flowers,” solar panels that flank his office at the US-Mexico Border Environmental Cooperation Commission (BECC).
The serene landscape of solar panels turning with the sun-in a dance, as Daniel would say-runs in stark contrast to the Ciudad Juárez that America perceives: a city besieged by crime. Headlines from his hometown have reflected the strained relations between the U.S. and Mexico in their efforts to thwart the violent trade of narcotics across the border. Daniel sees a new and vital path in clean energy, and a path the US must facilitate.
A brighter future of bilateral trade and collaboration lies in the creation of environmentally sustainable business opportunities that address the critical need for clean energy in the region. This collaborative partnership to create sustainable economic opportunity and jobs exists on both sides of the border. The sun doesn’t recognize political boundaries. Together the countries can use clean energy to alleviate the poverty and suffering in the border region and at the same time produce clean, emissions-free energy to power one of Mexico’s most important industrial centers.
The US-Mexico Border region has tremendous solar resources. A constant flood of intense sunrays provide an annual average of 7-8 kilowatt hours per square meter daily. That’s enough energy to power municipalities, airports, colleges, and industrial complexes. With intelligent development efforts into renewable energy, the region could be a showcase for sustainable economic development and trade. BECC grasps that idea and is taking positive steps to promote it.
Chartered to integrate environmental solutions to preserve and enhance human health and the environment, BECC has taken the next step in fulfilling this commitment by deploying advanced solar energy technology. This is a refreshing development in the region and BECC’s efforts should be loudly applauded by its board of directors from both nations, which includes representation from the US Department of State, US Treasury, the US EPA, and their Mexican counterpart agencies.
BECC’s offices are showcasing advanced concentrator photovoltaic (CPV) technology provided by California-based SolFocus. The two CPV arrays installed at the facility harness the sun’s rays more effectively than traditional solar equipment by concentrating the sun’s power 650 times onto tiny, highly efficient solar cells. Daniel checks the meters on these systems daily, and finds them powering roughly one-third of the office building’s needs.
With the war on narcotics claiming so many lives, coupled with the devastation of the Deepwater Horizon oil spill and its unknown effects on the Gulf ecosystem, the people and businesses in the border region desperately need positive, grass-roots efforts to inspire a sustainable economic future. Daniel has seen firsthand the power that clean energy has to inspire his community. Local schools, officials, family members, and curious residents visit the site to get a glimpse of the giant “girasols” panels flanking the BECC offices.
The opportunity is real and the time is now to change border communities to places where individuals like Daniel’s three granddaughters can have well-paying careers and a clean and healthy environment. Today US aid flows to President Calderón in support of anti-narco trafficking enforcement. While important, providing aid to support solar energy project development in the region would be a more effective means to creating a peaceful, prosperous, cleaner future.