Climate and Environment

When the Lights Go Out

Local power cuts are a regular feature in Mexico, especially during dramatic thunderstorms.

Lightning strikes power distribution station

Local power cuts are a regular feature in Mexico, especially during dramatic thunderstorms.  If you travel to Mexico on a package vacation, you’re unlikely to notice as most large hotels and resorts have power back-up systems in place; however, if you plan to live, work or retire in Mexico, you’ll come to know that localized power cuts are part-and-parcel of the living landscape here.

Power cuts can happen at anytime, and last from a few minutes to several days.  They are more frequent during the summer months, and through the rainy season in particular, as torrential thunderstorms with lightning — sometimes accompanied by high winds — have a habit of knocking out local transformers strapped to lamp posts or affecting electricity sub-stations. In the case of the former, a street or two can end up without power; if its the latter, entire neighborhoods or small towns may be affected.

Mexico’s electricity company has been continually improving the infrastructure of the country’s electricity grid in recent years, and so power cuts are far less frequent (and lengthy) today than they were in years past, and when the power goes, the electricity company is usually quite good at responding: most of the time power-outages will be brief, or last a few hours at most.

In practical terms, power cuts may cause a plethora of inconvenient situations.  Traffic lights, for example, suddenly cease to work causing traffic jams and car accidents (which add to the congestion in cities). Food in refrigerators and freezers may be at risk if the power outage lasts more than a day or two. Convenience stores may have to stop trade if their sales counters depend on electronics: this is common at modern convenience stores.  You might be watching a movie at home, which just got to the good part.  Or you may be downloading something from the internet: even if your laptop keeps working, the internet router shuts down.  If you’re working in Mexico, your factory or office facilities such as computers, printers, modems, etc. may become lifeless objects of little use when the power goes.

It’s no wonder then, that UPS (Uninterrupted Power Supply) systems are popular in Mexico.  A UPS is in essence a battery in a box that charges up when the power is on, and keeps electric-powered devices running for a while when the power shuts down.  Retail technology supply stores in Mexico, like BestBuy and OfficeMax as well as Amazon Mexico sell domestic and office-grade UPS devices which will keep computers, internet routers, and printers running for between 30-120 minutes during a power cut. (The longer the back-up time, the more expensive the device.)  If you must have your home or office or other business powered constantly, industrial-grade UPS systems, which include larger and longer-lasting power battery backups or diesel fuel-powered generators, are available from specialist suppliers (search online for options).

A by-product of power-outages are power ‘brown-outs’ and power surges. Brown-outs can be particularly cruel to your high-tech equipment because the drop in voltage can result in a lethal increase in amperes; it’s wise to disconnect key electrical items in the event of a brown-out situation.  When the power comes back, a surge can also damage electrical equipment, so another useful accessory for your home or office in Mexico is a power surge protector.  Some UPS devices double-up as power surge protectors, although you can buy them separately (there are different grades which offer varying levels of protection) and use them in conjunction with your UPS system.

If you plan to be self-employed in Mexico, perhaps working in some knowledge-based industry where your internet connection and other electronic devices must be on-hand to serve clients and deliver projects on-time, the acquisition of an office-grade UPS device and a power surge protector will prove a useful investment.

You can find out more about utility services, including power supply in Mexico, on our guide to House Maintenance and House Security in Mexico.

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3 Comments

  1. Peter B. says

    In the two stronger earthquakes that we had here last September (2017) the power went out in my building, but was restored the same day.

    Beware of a potential problem in condominiums: if there are internal management problems and the electric bill for the common areas isn’t paid, not only will your elevator be out of service (if you’re lucky enough to have one) but your water may stop running after a day or two, depending on how much is stored. So it’s always a good idea to have a few large bottles of water put aside for contingencies.

  2. bbuckman says

    Power outages are far fewer and less interruptive than they used to be. In the late eighties when I first came to Mexico the loss of electricity was common and lasted long enough to ruin food in the refrigerator. I’ve been at my present address for ten years and have never had any spoilage because of power outage. Even in bad weather it happens very infrequently and for only short periods of time.

  3. Christine says

    FYI, you can buy a whole house surge protector in the USA and have an electrician install it at your panel. For some reason you cannot buy them in Mexico

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