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An engineers dream: if a wall has to be built between the US and Mexico, why not use it to produce energy?

(Purdue University / Jorge Castillo Quiñones)

Instead of a wall, why don’t we build an energy park all along the 1,954 miles of the US-Mexico border? Bringing energy, water, jobs and border security to the region. That's the plan put forward by engineers and scientists from across the USA, led by Purdue University in Indiana.

The proposal suggests both nations work together on an enormous infrastructure project: a complex train of solar energy panels, wind turbines, natural gas pipelines, desalination facilities that together would create an industrial park unlike any other along the border.

Why it matters. According to the scientists, the US-Mexican border is one of the best sites in the world for energy production. The border wall would be able to accommodate 8 million panels across its width. According to conservative calculations, that would generate upwards of 7.2 terawatt-hours of electrical power per year. Even though the plan seems utopian, it could rally the Republican Party’s calls for a greater border security along with a ‘Green New Deal’ spearheaded by progressive Democrats.

The standpoint at the US-Mexican border

  • US Congress granted 1.6 billion dollars for renewals and construction of fences in 2018.

  • President Trump obtained 5.7 billion dollars from the House of Representatives to fund a stretch (1000 miles) of his controversial wall along the border with Mexico- This was rejected by the Senate and ended in the longest government shutdown lasting 35 days till January 25th 2019, reportedly costing the US-economy 11 billion Dollars.

  • The 1000 miles stretch president Trump wants to build would last at least 10 years, even with a large workforce.

  • Cost estimates rise constantly. Some experts advise the construction around 25 billion, democrats believe it could be up to 70 billion.

  • Mexico has said it is not willing to pay for a border wall.

How much does the FEWIEP-project cost. The scientists estimate an addition of 1.1 bn to the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) appropriation.

What do they want to build?

  • A solar park with eight million solar panels along the entirety of the border.

  • A system to redistribute the water of the Rio Grande in order to use its energy.

  • Wind farms.

  • Wind turbines with a hydraulic drive-train for reverse osmosis to desalinate the water from the Pacific and the Gulf of Mexico. This would favor agriculture in the area.

Who would benefit from this. The engineers argue this corridor – an economic free trade zone, as they imagined it – will bring a broad spectrum of workforce from the US and Mexico. Manufacturing, construction, installation, engineering, management, agriculture, education, and research and development will all create a variety of new jobs. Specialized industries (cybersecurity, microgrid, energy, precision irrigation and agriculture) will additionally boost employment.

A consortium of universities, industries and laboratories is supposed to provide technical expertise along with new innovations for the site’s development.

How secure will this border be. The issue is unclear, however there are suggestions of integrating the infrastructure (e.g. solar panels) into border security. Drones are depicted in the graphic, yet their exact deployment is not further explained.

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