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.
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.
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.
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.
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.