The dream of clean energy

Faced by the threat of frustration over finding new oil deposits, Cuba has speeded up investments to obtain electricity through renewable energy sources.

Jorge Luis Baños/IPS

With the inauguration of the photovoltaic park of Cantarrana, in the central province of Cienfuegos, for the first time Cuba is integrating thousands of panels to power generation.

Two major investments in the fields of wind power and solar energy have confirmed this year the policy of reducing the dependence on imported oil, still too much of a burden for the Cuban economy. For years this country has been buying around half of the eight million tons of oil and equivalent gas consumed by its industry, agriculture and the residential sector. Offshore explorations, financed by foreign firms through risk contracts, have not discovered new deposits.

The most realistic, though slower, option seems to be going in another direction and the government, despite the fact that it shares the old national expectations of finding black gold, is taking it into account.

Though the news gained force three months later, the first photovoltaic solar energy park started functioning in April, a novelty in a country that until now had bet on a smaller scale on that energy alternative. The solar panels were fundamentally used in rural areas which had no access to the national power system.

Located in the province of Cienfuegos, to the centre and south of the island of Cuba, the Cantarrana installation was fully functioning in August, according to the national media. With an installed final capacity to generate 2.6 megawatts, its 14,100 panels cover an extensive area of 4.72 hectares. It is the most important station of its type already existing in the nation, electric engineer Silvio Yoel León, from the investment company of the National Electricity Conglomerate (UNE), told the press.

The Cantarrana solar park, whose construction started in October 2012, generated the first megawatt in April. From that month until August it has saved Cuba around 145 tons of hydrocarbons. According to UNE estimates, during that period it has produced sufficient electricity to cover the daily consumption of 780 homes, with the no less important benefit of being clean energy. Since it did not burn the fuel it saved, it avoided the launching into the atmosphere of a large amount of carbon dioxide.One of the major electric energy potentials based on wind is located in the north of the eastern provinces of Holguín and Las Tunas, as the Gibara 1 and Gibara 2 stations indicate.

Another highly renowned source is wind. Recently, the government announced, among other projects, the construction of a new wind power park in the eastern province of Las Tunas, a territory neighbouring the province of Holguín, where the biggest wind power stations existing in the Cuba until now are located: Gibara 1 and Gibara 2, on the northern coast, with an installed capacity of 9.6 MW.

During the 12th World Wind Energy Conference and the Exhibition of Renewal Energy Sources (WWEC 2013), held in Havana last June, Cuban Energy and Mining Minister Alfredo López announced that the Las Tunas installation will have 34 wind-driven generators, each one with a capacity of 1.5 MW. The amount will allow for generating 153 gigawatt-hours and will replace every year more than 40,000 tons of oil.

The government is confident it will recoup the investment in six years with the hydrocarbon saved on account of the wind in that installation, which when concluded in 2014, according to plans, will be the largest of its type in the country, with a total capacity of 50 MW. Right now there are four wind power parks equipped with a total of 20 generating machines that provide 11.7 MW to the national power system, according to UNE data.

The director of the Centre for the Study of Renewable Energy Technologies, Conrado Moreno, is optimistic because “in recent years Cuba has been showing signs of a great wind-power development and renewable energies in general.” In 2005, wind power only contributed 0.5 MW in the country.

After recently presenting a new Wind Map indicating more precisely the course of the winds in the Cuban archipelago, experts estimate installations could be built to achieve a capacity of more than 2,000 MW. More concretely, Minister Alfredo López mentioned at the WWEC 2013 projections to assimilate in the short term at least 400 MW from the burning Cuban tropical sun and more than 600 MW from wind.

The development programme has the aim of producing in 2030 at least 10 percent of the electricity using renewable sources. This is an ambitious undertaking. At the close of 2012, these sources barely contributed 0.7 percent of the electricity, according to the National Office of Statistics and Information (ONEI).

The majority of the power generated is of thermic origin: around two thirds comes from thermoelectric plants and a bit over 21 percent from power generation sets.

The thermoelectric plants using oil and derivatives continue being the principal power generators in Cuba.Other government estimates indicate that the production of primary energy – including biogas plants, solar heaters, windmills and others – based on renewable sources amounted to 3.8 percent last year, but it could reach 16.5 percent in 2020. Sugarcane and forestry biomass, solar energy, wind power and hydroelectric plants are some of the four principal sources.

According to many experts, one of the alternatives that merit more attention is sugarcane biomass, waste from an agribusiness that is still important for the Cuban economy. After the restructuring, that sector was generating only 470 MW, a figure reduced by the low pressure of the boilers in the sugar factories. The Azcuba enterprise is taking steps to increase the efficiency of its power generation, which includes investments in some sugar mills in association with a British firm.

A fact confirms how opportune it is to do this: the electricity produced in one year by the sugar factories covers the electricity consumed by half a million homes for a month.

The country is developing those alternatives confident that the oil and dollars saved will be the best credit card to invest and the benefit to the environment the best social guarantee. (2013)


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