Mexico Opens Its Grid to Competition

As part of a wider reform of its energy market, Mexico is privatizing its energy regulator and will begin allowing private companies to sell energy to, and add capacity to, its electricity grid. The country’s president, Enrique Peña Nieto, enacted the laws (English summaries) on Monday, August 11th (Spanish pdf). Petroleum and electricity have been state monopolies in law since the 1917 constitution and in practice since the late 1930s, when Mexico succeeded in expropriating foreign energy firms’ holdings.

The change in direction is in part a response to very poor productivity: Mexican industrial customers pay around 72 percent more than American counterparts for electricity, according to a Deloitte report (pdf).  PriceWaterhouseCoopers estimates that the Mexican grid has 18 percent transmission losses, over double the OECD average of seven percent (pdf).

The US-Mexico border sees only a small amount of electricity trading today, but this reform could be an opportunity for American firms with generation and transmission construction experience. Private companies already generate around one third of Mexico’s electricity, but they must sell it to the Federal Electricity Commission (CFE), the national regulator and distributor of electricity. Under the new laws, they will be able to bid for access to the grid and compete for clients. In the long run, that should lead to lower prices.

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What Do Women in Engineering Want?

For years, psychologist Nadya A. Fouad of the University of Wisconsin in Milwaukee has been asking women in engineering what they want. She and organizational psychologist Romila Singh, also at U-W Milwaukee, conducted a National Science Foundation-supported survey asking over 5,000 female engineers their reasons for leaving—or staying—in the field. On Saturday, 9 August, at the American Psychological Association annual meeting in Washington, D.C., Fouad presented their latest analysis of that data. Those who leave, she reports, turn out to be just as confident and successful as those who stay. They may, however, be more likely to have encountered belittling or undermining from colleagues and a lack of support from their supervisors.

“I really want the narrative to not just be: ‘Women don’t have confidence, women need to lean in,’” Fouad says. “With all the will in the world, if the climate doesn’t change, women can lean in, but they will still get pushed back.”

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DARPA redesign

homecoverThe US Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency (DARPA) opened a new office in April uniting its biology, and related engineering and computer science research. The Biological Technologies Office (BTO), directed by neurologist and retired Army colonel Geoffrey Ling, inherited 23 existing research programs and on April 24 launched its first new one, involving prosthetics. Other areas of research include diagnostics for infectious diseases, synthetic biology, biological clocks, systems biology and a program to establish the lineage of genetic modifications to living organisms. The office’s 2015 budget is around $250 million. The research programs and grant procedures will not change in their structure, wrote an agency spokesperson, though they will align with the office focus areas. Bringing the biology strands together under one of DARPA’s seven offices should give the agency’s leadership, “a better sense of how to make investments,” says David Rejeski, director of the science and technology program at the Woodrow Wilson International Center for Scholars in Washington, DC, and a member of a DARPA external board of advisers. That, in turn, should enable the BTO to recruit competitive researchers working in its focus areas and help them win funding. “When you have an office dedicated to an area, [its director] is an advocate,” in the scramble for the agency’s $2.9 billion annual budget says Sharon Weinberger, a journalist and author of a forthcoming book on DARPA. Kit Parker, a bioengineer at Harvard University and previous DARPA grant winner says, “The neuro-social sciences and the mind-body axis are two areas where I suspect BTO will go.” BTO is soliciting its first round of applications on a rolling basis through April 30, 2015.

First published in Nature Biotechnology: [html] [pdf]

Note: This text corrected from the print version; a duplicate phrase was deleted here.

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