Despite being the most robust solar thermal market across North and South America in terms of growth (8 % YoY in 2015), Mexico is still struggling domestically to harmonise its quality standards for solar thermal heaters. The lack of understanding between local producers and equipment importers has been the main hurdle to legally binding and uniform rules. However, the process is ongoing and the market’s stakeholders expect a draft of the official NOM-027-ENER-2015 to be available for public consultation by the end of 2016.
In spite of a globally contracting solar thermal market, Mexico remains one of the few countries still showing strong growth: After Denmark (+55 %), Turkey (+10 %) and Israel (+9 %), it is fourth on the world list and is the strongest market across North and South America, with sales increasing by around 8 % and some 345,000 m² of capacity being newly installed in 2015 (FAMERAC figures).
No consensus on pressure requirement
Still, one of the yet unanswered challenges of the Mexican solar thermal sector is the creation of legally binding, nationwide standards for solar thermal heaters (see first news piece from November). In 2014, the National Commission for Energy Efficiency, CONUEE, began to work on a draft of official regulations called NOM-027-ENER-2014 or “Energy performance and security of residential solar water heating systems operated by solar, gas or any other source of energy”. But contrary to the many efforts made in negotiating a deal, decisions on the draft’s content have been continuously postponed primarily for one reason: There is a lack of understanding between the national manufacturers of flat plate collector manufacturers and the importers of – mainly Chinese – vaccum tube collectors.
Draft standard up for public consultation before end of 2016
Hermilio Ortega Navarro, an adviser to the renewable energy and energy efficency programme by the German Agency for International Cooperation (GIZ) who works in close collaboration with CONUEE, said that the lack of an agreement originated in a dispute over a requirement to be included for both solar water heater technologies, flat plate and evacuated tube collectors: The solar water heater is to withstand a hydrostatic pressure of above 3 kg/cm². “This prerequisite would eventually lead some vaccum tube manufacturers, mostly from China, to abandon the market as not all of them will be able to comply with the requirement,” Ortega explained.
Due to the lack of agreement with the vacuum tube collector providers the issue was forwarded to the Senate, the upper house of Mexico´s bicameral congress, on 25 November 2015. Members of parliament have since asked the Secretary of Energy to have CONUEE and the Advisory Committee for the Preservation and Rational Use of Energy Resources, CCNNPURRE, submit a report on the draft NOM / 027 / ENER / 2015 and its related public consultation.
Earlier this year 2016, CONUEE had already received several comments and amended the regulations, so that Ortega expects the draft to be available for public consultation before the end of the year. The consultation was originally expected to begin in June 2016.
The creation of these legally binding, nationwide quality standards may prove to be of great help to finally consolidate the Mexican solar thermal market. Last December, ICA Procobre published a study looking at proposals to increase the benefit of using solar water heaters at residential and commercial properties in the country (see attached document). The report contained some interesting figures, such as an strong increase from 210 MW to 1,149 MW in cumulated solar thermal capacity between 2005 and 2013 and an estimated 18.7 million Mexican households, which already have a washing machine and might be interested in purchasing a solar water heater as well.
Alejandro Diego Rosell is a freelance journalist and consultant specialised in renewable energies and based in Madrid, Spain.