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Offshore wind farms in Yucatan: Mexico's treasure?

In 2008 the Mexican government began an advertising campaign seeking popular support to promote the energy reform that never came during Calderon's six-year term. This campaign used the slogan "Mexico's treasure" to refer to the country's potential energy reserves hidden in the deep waters of the Gulf of Mexico (you can see the government's ad at Four years after that campaign, it was announced from the presidency that the first reserves had already been found ( However, the current director of PEMEX, Octavio Romero Oropeza, informed in December 2021 that the alleged treasure has not been found ( To date, we still do not enjoy the benefits represented by the "treasure".

Currently, the government of López Obrador continues to bet on the use of oil as the engine of the economy, which is understandable since it is a valuable resource. But, are hydrocarbons really our "treasure"? With the exploitation and use of hydrocarbons, we continue to contribute to the deterioration of the planet, knowing that man's impact on climate change is unequivocal and that fossil fuels are the main source of greenhouse gases (IPCC Sixth Assessment Report - Physical Basis). Couldn't we look for a treasure that serves as an economic engine and at the same time helps to achieve the country's energy security, in addition to contributing to mitigating global warming?

In 2010, shortly after the creation of the Laboratory of Engineering and Coastal Processes, at the Sisal Academic Unit of the Institute of Engineering, we began a project commissioned by the Federal Electricity Commission (CFE) to study winds in the boundary layer on the Yucatan coast, led by Dr. Bernardo Figueroa Espinoza, and subsequently, we undertook several studies on breezes led by Dr. Alec Torres Freyermuth and Dr. Maria Eugenia Allende Arandia. These studies indicate intense and persistent winds over the Yucatan Peninsula, which together with the work of Gille et al. (2003), shows the breezes of the Yucatan Peninsula as one of the most intense worldwide, indicate the wind as an important resource in the area. Thus, it is not surprising that with these winds, energy companies have been interested in establishing wind farms in Yucatan, making arrangements for the acquisition of land since 2008.

Despite the richness of the intense winds, establishing wind farms in Yucatán has been complicated by environmental impacts and community and citizen resistance to the establishment of wind farms on ejido lands. Much of the land in Yucatan is ejido (common use) and this leads to major conflicts when companies arrive with an extractivist vision, as has happened in the Isthmus of Tehuantepec (Zárate-Toledo et al. 2019). On the other hand, Yucatan is a state with great biodiversity and the installation of wind farms implies the deforestation of the low deciduous forest that houses much of the country's wealth of flora and fauna, threatening biodiversity. Regardless of these potential impacts, the energy reform presented in 2013 by the then president of Mexico, Enrique Peña Nieto, and approved that same year, habilitated the installation of the wind farms now operating in Yucatan.

Thinking about the offshore wind potential and the possible conflicts in the installation of wind farms on land, in 2012 I began to talk with different actors on the subject of wind farms. I was struck by the fact that while most countries are installing offshore wind farms, in Mexico we have not turned to the sea and we continue to face environmental and land-use conflicts in a conventional manner (environmental impact assessments as simple procedures and seeking to pay little for the land, leaving the least possible benefit). Engineers at CFE told me that they did have the offshore wind potential in mind, but the high installation costs made it impossible; professionals in the private sector told me that it would never happen because of the high costs; academics said that in Europe they go offshore because of the lack of land and that if they could they would stay inland to save costs. It seemed that the cost only has to do with the initial investment and immediate operation costs, but not the long-term environmental and land conflict costs. Had we not learned from the tragic experience in the Isthmus of Tehuantepec where land conflicts led to the exit of certain companies? Why is the environmental cost of degradation not yet considered? In the long run, it seems to me that the costs of installing marine parks should not be so high and the benefits so many. Thus, I started to promote the benefits of offshore parks, and in 2018 I sent a letter to the then-president-elect López Obrador, encouraging him to continue with his plan to use hydrocarbon resources but to seek to promote what I consider to be Mexico's true treasure: The wind resource on the Yucatan continental shelf. I will try to explain why I consider it this way.

The Yucatan shelf, although not the largest in the world, is possibly the one with the largest shallow extensions. To visualize the Yucatan shelf, think that at 10 km from the coast we have between 10 and 15 m depth and that the depth of 40 m is reached between 60 and 100 km from the coast. If we consider that for visual aspects we should not install wind turbines at less than 10 km from the coast and that at more than 40 m depth it is necessary to install wind turbines on floating platforms, we could say that the area between 10 and 40 m depth could have wind farms with installed with relative ease (Figure 1). With this, we would have more than 3 million hectares to install offshore wind farms! If we compare this extension with the surface of the state of Yucatan, it represents an area equivalent to 70% of the surface of Yucatan. Although it would be absurd to pretend to install wind turbines in that entire area, as an exercise to understand what this shallow platform represents, we can think that under standard design conditions, up to 2,700 wind turbines could be installed, which could generate more than 11,000 MW, positioning Mexico as the third-largest producer of wind energy worldwide, after China and the U.S.A. Could we think that on land we would have availability of these extensions? The answer is clearly no.

Figure 1. Elevation curves every 10 m showing a strip where wind turbines could be installed considering the zone between 10 and 40 m depth off the Yucatan coast.

If we think about the installation of offshore wind farms we can forget about land conflicts, since there is no private or communal property. This does not mean that the sea is free of conflicts, as there are important navigation routes and fishing zones for the peninsula's fishing community. The issue of shipping routes can be resolved easily as the routes are well established and wind farms can be planned around them. The fishing issue may be more complex, so it is necessary to look for synergies between the two activities. However, we know that when a structure is placed in the sea, it is quickly colonized by marine species (that is why sunken ships are recreational diving sites), so the piles of the platforms could be designed in such a way that they have attractive configurations for marine flora and fauna species, so they generate refuge areas with positive impacts on fisheries. Going a little further, restricted areas could be established around certain wind farms so that they function in a manner analogous to protected areas, positively impacting fisheries. I am convinced that synergy can be achieved with positive impacts on fisheries.

The generation of refuge areas and substrate for marine life is a positive impact on the environment, but we also have potential negative impacts. The main environmental risk is that of migratory birds. We are facing a corridor of migratory birds that come from North America to spend their winters in the south and an offshore wind farm poses a serious hazard to these birds. However, there is proven technology to mitigate impacts, such as radars that identify flocks of birds to slow and stop the movement of the blades. Even for the North Sea, where there are different migratory bird routes, systems are being developed to predict the migratory routes that birds will take, as well as radars that detect the height of their flights, in order to optimize rotor operations so entire wind farm does not need to stop. In the offshore area, it is more common to find migratory birds with defined routes than individual birds, so it will be even easier to reduce bird mortality than in onshore wind farms. Thus, technological advances indicate that the migratory bird issue is solvable.

Based on the above, offshore wind farms in the Yucatan platform present many benefits, since land problems are eliminated and the impact on the environment can be beneficial, as long as we take care of migratory birds. However, these are not the only advantages, we also have a very high wind potential and a low energy sea. The issue of high wind potential is clearly important as it translates into the energy we can extract, but having a low energy sea is a huge advantage over other offshore wind farms in the world. For example, the southern part of the North Sea is where there are a large number of wind farms, and in this area, the average waves range from 0.8 to 1.6 m (Figure 2a), and the highest 1% of them are between 3 and 6.5 m (Figure 2b), this causes the farms to be in areas of high wave energy, complicating maintenance maneuvers and increasing costs. On the other hand, the Yucatan shelf (also referred to as Campeche Bank) has average wave heights of approximately 1 m (Figure 3a), with the highest 1% waves between 2 and 3.5 m (Figure 3b). In addition, storm frequency is much higher in the North Sea than on the Yucatan shelf. Thus, the Yucatan shelf presents ideal conditions for operating offshore wind farms.

Figure 2. Location of offshore wind farms in the North Sea (red zones) according to the European Environment Agency, showing a) the mean wave height and b) the 99th percentile, according to Grabemann and Weisse (2008).
Figure 3. a) Mean and b) 99th percentile significant wave height for the Yucatan shelf according to the wave hindcast of Appendini et al. (2014).

A topic that cannot be left aside is the wind potential since there is no point in talking about offshore wind farms if there is no justification in relation to the resource to be exploited. To this end, Estefanía García Caballero conducted her master's research characterizing the wind potential in the Yucatan Peninsula. In her work, she makes an assessment of the wind resource based on an atmospheric reanalysis to put in context the offshore wind potential in Yucatan with other wind farms in Europe and with the Eolica Golfo 1 wind farm in Dzilam de Bravo. In this assessment, she finds a power available in the marine zone of Sisal comparable to some European farms, but more importantly, she finds that the available potential represents an increase of over 300% with respect to the Eólica Golfo 1 complex. She then characterized the wind resource using data from the Technical University of Denmark (DTU) provided by Dr. Markus S. Gross and Dr. Vanesa Magar Brunner of the Center for Scientific Research and Higher Education of Ensenada (CICESE). The study identifies areas with the highest wind potential, where it is observed how the wind potential is much lower as soon as the winds interact with land (Figure 4). It is clear that the offshore wind potential does not compare with the availability of this resource on land.

Figure 4. Available wind potential at 100 m height in the Yucatan Peninsula.

So far everything would seem to indicate that there are only benefits for offshore wind farms on the Yucatan shelf, however, we cannot ignore the hazard posed by tropical cyclones. The Yucatan Peninsula is exposed to hurricanes and climate warming will increase the probability of impact of high intensity events (Appendini et al. 2019). While I believe that the impact of a hurricane will have worse consequences if an onshore wind farm is destroyed compared to an offshore one, we cannot ignore this peril. The international standard IEC 61400-1, since its third edition issues design recommendations in tropical cyclone zones, in addition, work is being done on technologies to meet the challenge posed by the presence of tropical cyclones. However, it is important to highlight that although the Yucatan Peninsula is exposed to tropical cyclones, its greatest exposure is the Caribbean side, and most of the events that impact the Yucatan platform, at least in front of the state of Yucatan, are events that enter through Quintana Roo, weakening on land and exiting to the sea towards the platform with low intensities. There are exceptions such as Gilberto in 1988, but they are not common. The climatology of tropical cyclones elaborated by Appendini and Ruiz-Salcines (2021) show that the northwest zone of the Yucatan shelf, the one with the highest wind potential, is a zone that is not so affected by tropical cyclones (Figure 5), so the probability of affection is lower than even the zones of the northern Gulf of Mexico where the US plans offshore wind fields. An idea aside is to install wind farms in the low probability area offshore of Campeche, the main oil and gas production area of Mexico. Such wind farms could supply energy to oil extraction activities, reducing greenhouse gasses emission, and could be implemented in the short term.

Figure 5. Kernel density for areas where wind intensities are attained: a) tropical storm to category 5 hurricanes, and b) category 3 to 5 hurricanes.

In summary, we have companies interested to invest in wind energy extraction in the Yucatan Peninsula; some of these are already operating onshore wind farms. However, the installation of onshore wind farms has serious environmental and social challenges. On the other hand, the offshore wind resource on the Yucatan shelf is more than 300% greater than onshore and the Yucatan shelf has huge dimensions suitable for offshore wind farms. The installation of offshore wind farms could serve to detonate fishing, and social problems over land would be reduced. The extension over which offshore wind farms could be installed would make Mexico one of the largest producers of wind energy in the world. With that possible production, accepting the challenges imposed by tropical cyclones and migratory birds, shall we continue to think that Mexico's treasure is in the deep waters of the Gulf of Mexico and continue to contribute greenhouse gases into the atmosphere? Instead, we could go the renewable energy route and use the Yucatan platform, which I am sure is the envy of leading wind energy countries. So, where is the treasure?


Appendini, C. M., and P. Ruiz-Salcines, 2021: Climatología de ciclones tropicales en México. Colección. R. Silva-Casarin, G. Posada-Vanegas, J. Gutiérrez-Lara, and A. Felix-Delgado, Eds. CEMIE-Oceáno, 116 pp.

Appendini, C. M., A. Torres-Freyermuth, P. Salles, J. López-González, and E. T. Mendoza, 2014: Wave climate and trends for the Gulf of Mexico: A 30-yr wave hindcast. J. Clim., 27, 1619–1632,

Appendini, C. M., R. Meza-Padilla, S. Abud-Russell, S. Proust, R. E. Barrios, and F. Secaira-Fajardo, 2019: Effect of climate change over landfalling hurricanes at the Yucatan Peninsula. Clim. Change, 157,

Gille, S. T., S. G. Llewellyn Smith, and S. M. Lee, 2003: Measuring the sea breeze from QuikSCAT Scatterometry. Geophys. Res. Lett., 30, 3–6,

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Zárate-Toledo, E., R. Patiño, and J. Fraga, 2019: Justice, social exclusion and indigenous opposition: A case study of wind energy development on the Isthmus of Tehuantepec, Mexico. Energy Res. Soc. Sci., 54, 1–11,

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