Cuba and Russia in energy infrastructure upgrade agreement

Cuba is strengthening its ties with Russia with the aim of securing the investment needed to upgrade the Caribbean country's energy infrastructure. The Cuban government wants to develop ambitious plans that would need foreign financing valued at about $10bn.

The first project will be the construction of four generators to be added to the Mariel thermoelectric plant, according to an article by the AFP news agency. Power from the station will supply an industrial area that will be built in the Mariel port's vicinity. Cuban and Russian authorities have already signed a contract for the works. A $1.6bn credit from Russia will finance the project.

Cuba's national electric development programme aims to significantly increase the island's electricity generation. The main goal is reducing production costs and reaching 30,299 GW/h by 2030. (Current production is 18,746 GWh.) If Cuba's power production grows 3 per cent annually, the per-kW cost will fall from 21 cents at present to 18 cents by 2030. 

The four generators to be added to the Mariel plant will reach 200 MW each, boosting the station's capacity, which currently stands at 300 MW or 12.8 per cent of Cuba's overall electricity production.

Today thermoelectric plants are nearly the only energy source in Cuba. Of the nation's power production, 95.7 per cent comes from oil-fired plants, with just 4.3 per cent from renewable sources. The government wants to reduce energy from oil-fired plants to 76 per cent and increase the yield of renewable energy facilities by up to 24 per cent.

An efficient diversification of the energy matrix could make this goal a reality. There are solar and wind farms as well as small hydropower stations among Cuba's renewable power projects. There will also be bioelectric plants, which base their production on the combustion of marabou wood and sugar cane mash. Government plans include 19 bioelectric plants that will add 755 MW to the country's power production, according to Mariano Murillo, deputy president of the Council of Ministers.

Cuba's insular condition and small area – less than 43,000 square miles – makes construction of hydropower projects on a large scale virtually impossible, but smaller stations can be built with no problems. The government forecasts that hydropower sources will add just 56 MW to the nation's energy production. 

However, several regions of the island are very windy areas, which will be an important boost for electricity generation. In an article in Revista Eólica y del Vehículo Eléctrico magazine, Conrado Moreno, lead professor of the Centre of Study for Renewable Energy Technologies (CETER), said wind power has a potential to contribute 1100 MW.

Today, only 11.7 MW in energy generation comes from wind - from the Holguin, Ciego de Avila and Isla de la Juventud wind farms, which work respectively with French, Chinese and Spanish technology.

The best areas to locate future wind projects are in the eastern region of the island, close to Windward Passage, the strait that separates Cuba from the island of Hispaniola. The wind gusts there reach 6.9 metres per second, which makes the place an excellent location for wind farms. Each wind power plant located there could generate 87 MW. The first project is Punta de Quemado, which will cover 1600 ha.  

Russia's support will play a key role in achieving these goals. Russian president Vladimir Putin recently enacted a law that cancelled 90 per cent of the debt incurred by Cuba during the Soviet Union era. The debt currently totals $35bn according to the Efe news agency. The Cuban government will be forced to pay just 10 per cent of that amount over the next 10 years through semi-annual payments.

China is also reportedly interested in taking part in energy projects in Cuba. On a recent visit, Chinese president Xi Jinping agreed with Cuban president Raul Castro to promote cooperation in renewable energy.



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