HAVANA TIMES — The Oil Crash, an interesting blog which analyzes and divulges information related to the imminent energy crisis, was created in January 2010. I discovered it a short while ago and I got both hooked and scared.
Hooked because of the noble, intelligent and pleasant way in which the issues are presented. Scared because, before I started to read the blog, I thought we still had a few decades before the crash. Now, I am not so sure.
The blog’s creator is Antonio Mario Turiel, a man of science (holding a Bachelor’s degree in Mathematics and a PhD in Theoretical Physics) who is prudent in his pronouncements (neither speculating nor philosophizing, in the negative sense of these words) and draws his data from official sources.
Blind faith in science and technology is yet another way of being functionally illiterate. Among today’s techno-optimists, there is a group of enlightened individuals who accept the energy peak is around the corner but believes renewable sources of energy will be able to cover the energy deficit.
Turiel published “The Limits of Renewable Resources: Capital” (in Spanish) in order to demonstrate the absurdity of this claim. His claim is that it doesn’t matter whether Spain is a first world country and a leader in the use of “clean” energy – no matter how hard it tries, it will never be able to meet today’s energy demands with these energy sources.
My intention in this post is to determine whether Cuba, which enjoys conditions that are much more favorable than Spain’s (low energy consumption, abundant sun year-round and a magnificent weather) is in a position to achieve such a feat.
My Line of Reasoning
The author of The Oil Crash begins by estimating the total amount of energy consumed in Spain. Then, he calculates the wind-generated power that would have to be installed to satisfy the country’s energy demand. Following this, he estimates the costs of installing the (vast) infrastructure and determined to what extent the people of Spain can “afford” these.
As energy carriers, our fossil fuel consumption is equivalent to 7 million tons of oil.
Knowing that 58% of this is employed to produce the 17,000 Gwh of energy that Cuba consumes in a year, we can use a rule of three to calculate how much electricity is equivalent to 7 million tons of oil. If we were to destine all of this fuel to the generation of electricity, we would produce 29,300 Gwh with current technology.
If we calculate the power that needs to be installed to generate all of that energy, dividing the 29,300 Gwh by the 8,766 hours in a year, we get the value of 3.3 Gw. The result doesn’t look crazy when we compare it to the 200 Gw that Turiel calculates for Spain, a country whose population quadruples ours and whose GDP is 26 times greater than that of our small Caribbean island.
Now, owing to the irregularity of wind patterns, wind turbines have a charge factor of 20%. This means that, to maintain a constant output of electricity, the installed capacity must be five times greater than that calculated on paper. In our case, the installed capacity must be of 16,5 Gw (3.3 x 5).
If every installed watt is valued at 4 dollars (Turial calculated it at 4.12 dollars), we can proceed to calculate the total amount needed: 16.5 x 4, or $66 billion, a figure quite similar to our GDP, which is about $60 billion.
Let us assess how viable such a massive undertaking would be in Cuba.
An Energy Crusade
Let us imagine that, thanks to a miracle, the country’s top leadership becomes aware of how critical the situation is and decides to bring changes about. Or, better, let us assume people suddenly become aware of the situation and, together and united, we undertake a true energy revolution.
If we were to tighten our belts, implement a wartime economy and destine 10% of our GDP ($60 billion a year) to the purchase and installation of the needed equipment, it would take us 11 years (three times less than Spain) to generate all of the energy we are producing today using only renewable resources. Eleven years is a long time, so let us set our sights on a more modest aim: generating all of the electricity produced in Cuba today using renewable resources. At the same work pace, we could achieve this in less than five years. Can we do it?
Bearing in mind that:
– The energy transition is far too expensive, that only the costs of the generators and installation were considered, ignoring the salaries of the qualified personnel needed, the costs that mobilizing so many resources and taking steps back in other sectors entails. I also neglected the costs involved in replacing all the engines and furnaces that run on fuel, assuming such changes are even possible.
– The cheap oil without which we cannot push the development of “clean” energy forward, has hit its peak and its volume will decrease rapidly;
– The country’s leaders look very optimistic in connection with the availability of fossil fuels. Much is said but very little is done about renewable sources of energy.
– Awareness of these issues, and people’s family economies, are both in a shambles. It is extremely unlikely that people will assume the rigors of change of their own will.
– Every minute lost multiplies the probability of failure.
In view of the above, my conclusion is that producing all of the energy we consume with renewable sources alone will not be possible. It is already too late. The aim of meeting today’s energy demand with renewable sources of energy isn’t that unrealistic, but we would need a true act of heroism. What is the alternative? Decreasing consumption.
- All figures are approximations. The GDPs of Cuba and Spain were taken from Wikipedia (estimated by the World Bank in 2012). All other information, unless otherwise noted, was obtained from the official web-site of Cuba’s National Statistics and Information Office (ONEI). The information is for 2011 and 2012.
- There are many other factors that make replacing all fossil fuels with renewable sources of energy impossible, including material shortages. Following Turiel and for didactic reasons, I have focused only on economic factors this time around.
- The analysis focuses on wind turbines because it is the energy source with the highest energy return. Other energy sources would yield poorer results in the long term.
- I assume full responsibility for all the claims made in this post.