Fernando Ravsberg*    

Despite Cuba’s interest in reducing its dependence on oil, the island does not currently import electric cars or authorize the use of natural gas as fuel.
Despite Cuba’s interest in reducing its dependence on oil, the island does not currently import electric cars or authorize the use of natural gas as fuel.

HAVANA TIMES — A work group for the promotion of renewable sources of energy was recently assembled in Cuba. It is a space for debate on the different points of view regarding what sources of energy could contribute to the country’s sustainable development.

Only 5 % of the energy Cuba consumes is derived from renewable sources. Oil dependence has already driven the country to the edge of the precipice several times – first with the US embargo, then with the collapse of the Soviet Union and now with the crisis in Venezuela.

Using the accompanying gas that was lost and polluted the environment before is one of the energy production initiatives currently underway in Cuba.
Using the accompanying gas that was lost and polluted the environment before is one of the energy production initiatives currently underway in Cuba.

The country has been investing in solar, wind and biomass energy, and trying to make optimal use of accompanying gas, for some years now. Today, it is in search of foreign companies willing to invest some US $ 3 billion in the sector.

It’s true these sources of energy are expensive, but, considering that oil is currently at US $100 the barrel and oil prices continue to rise, the investment will be profitable in the long term. It will give Cuba the independence it needs to develop its economy with no hurdles other than its own.

Uruguay is well on its way to achieving this: all of the country’s energy will be produced by hydroelectric plants and wind farms, an infrastructure which the country’s Energy Director tells us will have citizens paying lower electricity bills.

Some sugar refineries are already generating electricity by burning sugar cane remnants.
Some sugar refineries are already generating electricity by burning sugar cane remnants.

That could well be Cuba’s path: creating more wind farms, accompanying gas processing plants, solar panels, bagasse-driven generators and paying closer attention to Cuban research now also proposing the use of marabou plants for energy production.

No one can discard the possibility that good quality oil will one day be found in Cuba, but I believe one shouldn’t put all of one’s eggs in one basket and count on the discovery of a miraculous well that will flood the island with crude and turn Cuba into an OPEP member overnight.

Not much hope of finding oil beneath the seabed remains after the oil platform left Cuban waters, and it is not exactly advisable to again dream of building nuclear power plants like those that caused serious accidents in the United States, the Ukraine and Japan.

Cuban authorities seem to understand this and are taking the first steps down the road leading to energy independence, with the great, additional advantage of employing technologies that do not damage the environment or put human life at risk.

Diving into the Deep

Bolstering renewable energy sources, however, is no easy task. It requires a lot of time, large investments and cutting edge technology. This explains why Cuba is offering generous tax exemptions to businesspeople interested in investing in this sector.

The University of Camaguey reports that, just like bagasse, marabou, a shrub that has spread across the Cuban countryside, could be used to generate electricity.
The University of Camaguey reports that, just like bagasse, marabou, a shrub that has spread across the Cuban countryside, could be used to generate electricity.

This is fine for the macro level, but progress could be achieved quicker if local versions of this same project existed, allowing citizens to participate and thus saving the nation fuel and money.

However, it is next to impossible for a Cuban to buy solar paneling, wind-mills or mini-hydroelectric plants for their homes, to be able to at least generate part of the electricity they require in their farms.

I’ve visited tobacco-growing areas in Pinar del Rio where there’s no electricity. Even though most of these farmers make good money (and in hard currency), they can’t watch television, own a fridge or enjoy a fan.

Renewable energy generators should be sold to the public at affordable prices – meanness should go out the window when the interests of the nation are at stake. The State will start to see profits as its oil bill begins to decrease.

Cuba’s vehicles also do not reflect these alternative initiatives. The country does not import electric cars and does not authorize the use of natural gas as fuel, as is the case in other countries in the region. Cubans have no other option than to use gasoline or diesel, and at hair-raising prices.

Cuba produces very limited quantities of low-quality oil and no reserves were discovered during the most recent underwater prospecting.
Cuba produces very limited quantities of low-quality oil and no reserves were discovered during the most recent underwater prospecting.

Current automobile prices in Cuba give the government more than enough financial elbow room to offer discounts for electric cars, which can be charged during the night, when most of the energy produced is lost.

Cuba could also import gas-operated devices that save enormous amounts of fuel. Ironically, Cuban authorities apply fines to those who use this technology today, and, in the event of recidivism, can even confiscate one’s car.

I am not criticizing the decision to use renewable sources of energy. On the contrary, their use must be generalized as much as possible. It is a question, rather, of doing what the old saying suggests: when you’ve decided to jump into the water, the most advisable thing is to dive where it’s deepest.

(*) Visit Fernando Ravsberg’s blog.


10 thoughts on “Cuba’s Energy Initiatives

  • The problem with arguments by experts is that experts often say the most ridiculous things. Here are but a few predictions from 1970:

    “Scientists have solid experimental and theoretical evidence to support…the following predictions: In a decade, urban dwellers will have to wear gas masks to survive air pollution…by 1985 air pollution will have reduced the amount of sunlight reaching earth by one half….”
    • Life Magazine, January 1970

    “Demographers agree almost unanimously on the following grim timetable: by 1975 widespread famines will begin in India; these will spread by 1990 to include all of India, Pakistan, China and the Near East, Africa. By the year 2000, or conceivably sooner, South and Central America will exist under famine conditions….By the year 2000, thirty years from now, the entire world, with the exception of Western Europe, North America, and Australia, will be in famine.”
    • Peter Gunter, professor, North Texas State University

    “It is already too late to avoid mass starvation.”
    • Denis Hayes, chief organizer for Earth Day

    “Civilization will end within 15 or 30 years unless immediate action is taken against problems facing mankind.”
    • George Wald, Harvard Biologist, 1970.

  • The height of ignorance is discounting or criticizing that about which you know very little.
    Can I assume the Johnny Depp movie is science -FICTION ?
    If so, please note that movies are intended to be entertaining and are not necessarily factual or educational.
    Godzilla is/was not real .
    UFOs are not real.
    Insane robots are not real .
    These new movies have as little to do with the future as did the old Buck Rogers serials of the 1930s and 1940s .
    In case you hadn’t noticed there is science and there is fiction .
    I’m talking about science as it is and will be .
    You’re talking Hollywood nonsense.

  • Heather, I understand Fernando to mean that there are cars in Cuba, mostly the ‘maquinas’ that have installed propane tanks in the trunks as an alternate fuel source. There have been car crashes on the streets with these gas-fueled cars that have been disastrous. Needless to say, use of propane in cars is illegal. Once discovered, car owners are warned to take the tanks out of the trunks. Because of the investment required to convert to natural gas, many of these owners do not take out the tanks (hence recidivism) and take their chances getting caught again which then risks losing one’s car.

  • Cuba has programs running at various universities to use or create alternative energy sources. I was told that the University of Santiago, in association with universities in Europa that provide assistance, is working on schemes to recycle cooking oil as fuel.

    The whole program may be intellectually good and environmentally correct, but problems to collect used oil may be blocking any real widespread use if they succeed to create a bio-diesel from the highly polluted oil.

    Various international aid and cooperation projects are in place.

    For those interested:

    Havana Energy are developing biomass energy and hydro energy in Cuba
    http://www.havana-energy.com/whatwedo/

    “Cuba to build biomass power plant”, Cuba Standard, June 17 2013, http://www.cubastandard.com/2013/06/17/cuba-to-build-bio-fuel-power-plant/

    “India offers line of credit to Cuba for renewable energy
    projects”, Indian Express, http://www.indianexpress.com/news/india-offers-line-of-credit-to-cuba-for-renewable-energy-projects/1171855/0

    “Havana Energy to sign Cuban biomass plant deal”, Marc Frank, November 28 2012, http://www.cubaverdad.net/weblog/2012/11/havana-energy-to-sign-cuban-biomass-plant-deal/

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