Cuba looks to renewables to boost economy

Cuba is looking into renewable energy sources as a boost for its still slow national economy, according to a report by Italian news agency ANSA. The Caribbean island still has very high dependency on fossil fuels.  

"The high cost of energy that reaches the consumer product of low efficiency in production, distribution and consumption directly affects the competitiveness of the national economy," said Rosell Guerra, an expert with Cuba's Ministry of Energy and Mines, who is quoted in ANSA's report.

Guerra told a conference that "the current energy situation in Cuba is conditioned by high dependency on fossil fuels."

With more than 11 million people, Cuba seeks to attract foreign investment to continue its costly search for oil in the Gulf of Mexico, which has not yet been successful.

Cuba meets about half of its power needs though crude extraction on its own territory, according to ANSA. However, the island must import the rest, especially from Venezuela, which offers better terms than other market leaders.

The ANSA analysis continues: "Renewable energy is a crucial branch in Cuban efforts to liberate its national economy from a heavy burden of inefficiencies that have made the economy slow and very sensitive to the ups and downs of international prices."

The expert from the Ministry of Energy and Mines said the country currently operates 13 wind farms and 19 biopower plants, contributing 633 and 755 MW respectively to the national energy system.

Cuban officials have said there is progress in the exploitation of radiation and sunlight as energy, and they are also studying the use of hydrogen as fuel.

Cuba seeks to achieve energy sovereignty, for which it has launched an official 15-year programme supported by the development of wind farms, solar photovoltaic (PV) systems and biomass.

Cuba has "a great wind potential," according to ANSA, because the 50 metre-high winds that plague the tropical island are capable of generating between 4000 MW and 12,000 MW, especially in coastal areas, inland areas and mountainous regions, as well as on the small islands around the main island.

There are 21 areas on Cuba's the northern coast, and nearly a decade ago the eastern zone "promised" an installable capacity of 1100 MW.

As for solar energy, solar radiation in Cuban territory, which is located on the Tropic of Cancer, reaches about 5 kWh/m2 per day.
Solar radiation varies so little estimated less than 8 per cent to over 97 per cent in all national areas.

Some experts in Cuba have said they hope the country can reach 16.5 per cent renewable energy generation by 2020.

Their comments were made during an online debate forum entitled "Energy and the Environment", in which senior members of the government took part.

Experts believe the Cuban sugar industry "can play a supporting role in the development of the future of renewable energy in the country," according to comments made in the public forum. Already sugarcane has been used to generate 469,000 kW/h, the equivalent of the electricity provided for a month to half a million homes.

The Cuban government is set to develop programmes to promote the use of renewable energy sources as part of a wider policy aimed at promoting the use of alternatives to high oil prices. These projects include the construction of two biomass plants, with a capacity of 20,000 kW and 30,000 kW respectively.  

The Cuban authorities are aiming to triple the energy generated from sugar cane, which highlights the potential of this source. The government is also promoting the construction of solar plants in the country, with a capacity of 10,000 kW.

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