Cuba prioritizes clean energy

by Livia Rodríguez Delis

As part of the updating of its economic model, Cuba has prioritized a change in policies to promote energy efficiency and the development of renewable resources.

To reduce losses in distribution networks, 215,000 posts have been replaced across the country.

Currently, the country is highly dependent on fossil fuels, with only 3.9% of electricity generated using renewable resources, creating not only a significant source of pollution, but higher prices as well, given that the cost of these fuels in transferred to other products.

Cuba annually generates 17,586 gigawatts per hour (gwh) of electricity, with peak time demand of approximately 3,156 megawatts (mw), while total losses in transmission and distribution amount to 17.6%.

The country’s strategy is to reduce dependency on fossil fuels, with a view toward more national independence in terms of energy and a reduction in the cost of electricity provided consumers, currently impacted by the high cost of oil on the world market.

The plan emerged as a result of guidelines approved by the 6th Congress of the Communist Party of Cuba in 2011, which emphasized the need to promote the use of renewable resources within the national electricity system and in remote areas, to make service more efficient.

On December 11, 2012, a governmental commission was created to assume responsibility for drafting a proposal for the use and prospective development of renewable resources for the period 2013-2030.

WILLPOWER EXISTS

Cuba has significant potential to develop solar energy, which can be used to generate 5 kw/h per square meter here – given the country’s geographic location and weather patterns – equivalent to the average daily usage of one household.
In 2004, Cuba’s national electric grid suffered a serious breakdown, complicating economic operations and the social life of the country. As a result of this incident, on the initiative of Fidel Castro, a program entitled the Energy Revolution was launched to replace obsolete power plants and outdated, inefficient household appliances, to ensure the rational use of electricity.

The program’s first moves included the addition of 2,400mw of generating capacity with high-efficiency motor-generators distributed across the country, increasing the National Electric System’s efficiency via lower fuel costs and a reduction in transmission losses, since electricity is produced closer to consumers.

To eliminate losses in distribution grids, some 215,000 posts and 7,000 kilometers of primary cable, 1.8 million services, 33,700 secondary circuits and 2.8 million meters were replaced, according to Leandro Matos, director of the Ministry of Mining and Energy’s strategy and policy department.

Residential users played a leading role in the effort, replacing 94 million incandescent light bulbs with compact fluorescents and 4.4 million inefficient appliances.

Matos explained that the effort was supported legally with Resolution no.190 which prohibited the importing of incandescent bulbs and instituted new guidelines for service rates.

According to Ministry data on the impact of the light bulb change-out, usage was reduced by 25mw for every million bulbs lit during peak hours. The investment made was recouped in less than three months.

“In 2009 technical regulations entered into effect to establish and enforce requisites for energy efficiency, electrical security and the adaptation to a tropical climate of equipment imported, fabricated or assembled in the country, to permit their distribution,” the expert continued.

Matos reported that there are four laboratories in Cuba authorized by the National Office for Rational Energy Use (ONURE), in which tests and trials of equipment are carried out, in accordance with norms approved by the Cuban Electro-technical Committee.

When the results of the laboratory tests indicating performance are completed, he said, ONURE emits a technical certification with which a determination is made as to whether or not a piece of equipment may be sold in Cuba.

At the same time, steps were taken in the industrial and commercial sectors to promote energy efficiency, including the replacement of 2,500 inefficient water pumps in water supply and waste water systems; banks of condensers were installed by large consumers; and a national energy supervision body was established.

In an effort to achieve better energy management, electricity consumption was planned on the basis of equipment consumer indexes and levels of activity. Daily monitoring and control of usage, analysis of this data and adherence to plans for electricity consumption were established.

“Within five years, the consumption of crude oil and its derivatives declined; energy use was reduced by 27%, with savings of 9.3 million tons of fuel, equivalent to 4.66 billion dollars,” Matos explained.

“We have reached a favorable, opportune moment to implement the second stage of the Energy Revolution, since there is greater support and a more effective national focus is guaranteed.”

VISION AND PRIORITIES

Renewable energy is energy which is obtained from natural sources, considered inexhaustible, such as the sun, wind, rain, tides and geo-thermal heat. These are not subject to abrupt prices changes, since they are free for the taking, as opposed to fossil fuels which are becoming more expensive as their supply diminishes.

In the year 200 BC, in China and the Middle East, windmills were used to pump water and grind grain. The Romans used geothermal sources to heat their homes.

Based on the premise that nature’s bounty offers many advantages, and the need to make use of this bounty in a sustainable fashion, an ambitious investment program was initiated in Cuba in 2013 to develop clean, alternative energy resources.

“We built the first seven banks of solar photovoltaic panels and six small hydroelectric plants; one 500 kilowatt plant using woody bio-mass and three bio-gas plants to generate electricity,” reported Raciel Guerra, the Ministry’s Renewable Energy director.

“We also initiated the construction of the country’s first 51 megawatt wind farms and are sure that, in 2014, we will begin the first two bio-electric plants using sugar cane bio-mass. Intense preparatory work is underway.”

Guerra explained pre-feasibility, technical-economic studies recently concluded on important projects to be undertaken over the next few years, “These were about the construction of 19 bio-electric plants based on sugar cane; 13 wind farms, and the others are solar panel banks and small hydroelectric plants on the country’s water reservoirs.”

“Also being studied are needed investments in national industries for the production of renewable energy systems, to avoid becoming importers, but rather collaborate with international companies to fabricate components and replacement parts within the country, which allows us to develop our industry, increase job opportunities and reduce costs, for example in the production of water heaters.”

The goal? Make energy available to support the country’s development and provide quality electric service; lower costs to make national production more efficient; produce lower cost electricity for the population; contribute to the development of national industry by reducing costs associated with importing new technology, and eliminate sources of pollution.

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