The Political Economy of Low Carbon Energy Transition in Mexico



Explaining energy transitions in favour of the environment requires a multidisciplinary approach. Therefore, this research explores the political economy of energy transitions in Mexico through a multi-level perspective approach (MLP). Mexico has followed an economic model based around fossil-fuels, especially oil and natural gas, which are no longer sustainable. The research proposes a collective case study approach that represent four parts of the electricity sociotechnical system: generation, transmission, distribution, and consumption to allow the learning of where the transition is moving towards in terms of types of development. The literature in general explains that energy transition at a national level must understand evolution in energy markets, energy policies, and energy technologies. Hence, for the present study, the socio-technical dimension will be explored to understand these transitions. It will be argued that a critical mechanism for developing low carbon energy in Mexico is the link between the analytical approaches on the sociotechnical domains and the learning-by-doing, by using and by-interacting (DUI) innovation mode.

Several parts of Mexico are currently being transformed as renewable energy resources. Domestically, the authorities are targeting a long-term goal of 50% clean energy generation by 2050 (Mex Gov, 2017). These new developments are often located in rural areas and represent the home of indigenous people who live in close symbiosis with their environment (FAO, 2010, p.32). Indigenous communities in Mexico are currently struggling against renewable energy resources as they oppose the commercialisation of biodiversity and degradation of the ecosystem (Mikkelsen et al. 2015, p.74). For example, the state of Oaxaca, which produces 97% of the national wind power (Juarez-Hernandez S. et al.  2014, p.1), has a population of almost four million people and 65.7% of residents speak only an indigenous language (INEGI, 2015, p.49). Energy developments are having a significant impact and produce inconsistent reactions in communities from economic to social and political. For instance, the first wind farm in Mexico, La Venta, inaugurated in 1994 in Juchitán de Zaragoza Oaxaca, was surrounded by scandals related to environmental damage associated to the impact on migratory birds due to collision (Ávila-Calero, 2017). The current situation is that indigenous people that were affected have been receiving fixed payments. Besides, out of the current 28 onshore wind farms found in this area, 78% are for the private use of Spanish and French energy companies and only 22% distribute electricity to the national grid for public consumption.  None of the projects supply the local communities directly (Pozas U. et al., 2015, p.105). In addition, the first Photovoltaic power station, Villanueva, to start operations after the country’s energy reform in 2018, was inaugurated in the middle of scandals and strikes. Workers complained on failure to their payment on salaries and poor living standards (Iturriaga, 2018).  Out of the interaction of stakeholders, policies surrounding this process, society, and the struggle over competing for the ambitious global goals of carbon reduction, one key question emerges — How can the Mexican energy system structure co-evolve to achieve a low carbon future?  There are complex relationships and interaction between these developments and communities as well as broader pressures such as climate change. These dynamics and relationships need to be better understood to inform this transition and to ensure potential benefits are secured.

How are these transformations better explained concerning a move away from a fossil fuel dependent economy? The research aims to provide both a set of tools and concepts at a national level to explain particular types of dynamics and actors of a sociotechnical transition. More specifically, the study focuses on the political economy of low carbon transition for the case of Mexico. In addition, for the second research objective, and for potential results it will consider dynamics created through the DUI mode of innovation as there is a shift towards renewable energy by examining Mexico[1]. The research will not focus on the radical innovation emergence, but on other aspects of the transition such as the evolution of existing regimes while studying the interaction of actors.  A collective case study and systemic approach is used, as it will focus on the electricity sociotechnical system: generation, transmission, distribution, and consumption. These case study sites will vary in terms of renewable energy, focusing on wind energy and solar photovoltaic (PV).


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Juarez-Hernandez S. and Leon G. (2014) Wind Energy in the Isthmus of Tehuantepec: Development, Actors and Social Opposition. Revista Latinoamericana de Economía. Universidad Nacional Autónoma de México (UNAM) Volume 45 Number 178. Pp.

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Pozas U. and Martínez I. (2015) Las Multinacionales en el Siglo XXI: Impactos Multiples – El caso de Iberdrola en Mexico y en Brasil. Editorial 2015 y mas. ISBN: 978-84-940147-4-1 Pp. 1-193

[1] Sociotechnical transitions literature stems from the sociology of technology and innovation studies (Geels, 2002, p. 1257). Innovation studies is a field of study that have both contributed to the sociotechnical transitions’ concepts and literature.


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