As a nation, we expend a lot of energy on our southern border. Why not get some of it back — in the form of a border that is an energy corridor? This near 2,000-mile-long “energy park” would incorporate wind, solar and natural gas sources, in an environmentally friendly economic development zone that brings energy, water, jobs and border security to the region.
This is a pipe dream with a real pipe — transporting energy across northern Mexico and the U.S. Southwest — a region lacking water. The border climate is perfect for this solution, with vast amounts of solar energy and wind, plus sizable natural gas resources, particularly in New Mexico and Texas. It would support economic growth, technology advancement, and jobs in R&D, engineering, manufacturing, construction, farming, and training centers.
It will also bring precious water to a parched, arid region — water security. The U.S. Southwest is experiencing severe drought; conservation is paramount to conserve groundwater. But without long-term, sustainable water, border communities on both sides will face debilitating shortages.
This project will redistribute and desalinate water from various aquifers, the Gulf of Mexico, the Pacific, and the Rio Grande — using the generated energy. For example, wind turbines, with a hydraulic drive-train integrating reverse osmosis, will desalinate water in various locations where wind is abundant and water is a scarcity. This newly generated energy for desalination and pumping will bring water security to the region, spurring economic growth and thereby creating opportunities along the border.
The wins keep adding up. Both U.S. political parties want massive infrastructure investment. The Democrats want a Green New Deal, the Republicans want border security — and both, when pressed, really want a bit of each. Enhanced border security would follow on the heels of an energy park — the facilities themselves form a barrier, which then must be further protected.
We could establish institutes along the border, where people from both sides become skilled in the wind, solar and natural gas industries, as well as in other sectors as is the case for healthcare. Our universities in the American Southwest could partner with their Mexican colleagues in research, workforce development and regionally needed innovation, and help attract private investment by corporations and venture capital.
This can happen. We only have to look to our north, at the Niagara Power Project, where the U.S. and Canada operate and secure critical hydroelectric power plants on each side of the border in Niagara Falls, benefiting both New York State and Ontario province in Canada. This plan would benefit cities like San Diego, Tucson, El Paso, Ciudad Juarez, Laredo, and Tijuana, among others. It has the potential to transform desert environs into an agricultural powerhouse, create wealth for the United States and Mexico, and reduce carbon dioxide in the atmosphere.
There are many technological and political hurdles — but there are many technological and political obstacles in our current approach to the U.S.-Mexico border, which frankly seems to be going nowhere. This may be our best chance to create economic development, security including water and peace.
by Luciano Castillo, Consortium Lead for The Energy Corridor, The Kenninger Chair Professor of Renewable Energy & Power Systems, School of Mechanical Engineering, Purdue University. He was also recently elected 2019 Fellow of the American Physical Society
Scientific American: Bold Plan? Replace the Border Wall with an Energy–Water Corridor